Researchers from Newcastle University, UK, 3D printed human corneas for the first time. To do this, they mixed stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with a gel and collagen to create a printable bio-ink.
The cornea, or the outer-layer of the human eye, plays an important role in focusing vision. Every year, around 10 million people worldwide require eye-surgery to prevent corneal blindness.
Worse yet, around 5 million people lose their sight in both eyes yearly due to corneal dysfunction. But, there is currently a shortage in transplantable corneas worldwide. However, 3D printing could change this.
Working on a solution are researchers from Newcastle University in the UK. The researchers have now 3D printed human corneas for the first time.
“What we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using co-ordinates taken from a patient’s eye,” said Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work.
3D Printed Corneas Ready to Transplant in 5 Years?
The corneas are possible using a special bio-ink, that the researchers create by mixing healthy donor cornea stem cells with a gel called alginate, which is taken from seaweed, and collagen.
“Our unique bio-gel — a combination of alginate and collagen — keeps the stem cells alive while producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer,” Connon said.
This bio-ink was then printed in concentric circles using a low-cost bioprinter. Connon adds that they are not alone in their research, with many teams currently engaged in creating bio-inks for creating 3D printed corneas.
However, this is the first time in which a shaped cornea was created. Previously, only flat tissue was created. The Newcastle team’s work also show that building a cornea to a patient’s specification is also possible.
Now, the 3D printed corneas are undergoing further testing. They are being produced and tested at the Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine. The hope is that within just five years, 3D printed corneas will be available for transplants, solving the shortage problem.
The researchers have published a proof-of-concept research paper in Experimental Eye Research.
Source (paywall): Financial Times