June 13, 2018
Scientists have 3D-printed corneas for the first time in new research, according to reporting in Newsweek.
Currently, patients with damaged corneas can undergo transplants in serious cases, but this necessitates a donor—of which there is a significant shortage. Worldwide, some 10 million people need surgery to prevent corneal blindness, while a further 5 million people are totally blind because the tissue is damaged or diseased.
Now, a team at Newcastle University in the U.K. believes it has paved the way for an unlimited supply of corneas, using a 3-D printer to create them in a lab.
The researchers took corneal stem cells from a healthy donor and mixed them together with alginate and collagen to create a printable “bio-ink.” This solution was then placed inside a simple 3D printer.
The scientists were able to print a 3D cornea in less than ten minutes. Building on previous work by the team showing stem cells can be kept alive for weeks at room temperature in a hydrogel similar to the bio-ink, the cells were shown to culture in the artificial cornea. As the corneas are easily printable, they can be created to match the size and shape of a patient’s eye.
Theirs is the first to be printed with a curved shape, as previous versions featured layers of cells, Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University and lead author of the study told Newsweek. The resulting paper was published in the journal Experimental Eye Research.