A new proof-of-concept research by scientists from Newcastle University published today in Experimental Eye Research, have successfully 3D printed the world’s first human cornea paving the way for a world free of blindness.
Cornea forms an important part of an eye as it is responsible for focussing the vision. According to estimates, there is a substantial shortage of corneas with around 15 million people requiring cornea transplant to prevent corneal blindness.
Following this research, the scientists can now create a bio-ink by mixing human corneal stromal cells from a healthy donor cornea together with alginate and collagen that can be 3D printed.
The researchers used a low-cost 3D printer and modified it to print bio-ink. The ink was successfully deposited in concentric circles to form the shape of a cornea. The entire printing took only 10 minutes. According to the observation, the stem cells continue to grow in the 3D printed cornea.
Lead scientist of the team and Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, Che Connon, said, “Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible. Our unique gel – a combination of alginate and collagen – keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer.”
He continued, “This builds upon our previous work in which we kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar hydrogel. Now we have a ready to use bio-ink containing stem cells allowing users to start printing tissues without having to worry about growing the cells separately.”
In addition to just 3D printing a cornea, the team also demonstrated that they can print unique corneas according to a patient’s specifications. By scanning the patients’ eye, they can print the cornea in the exact shape and size thus making the process more user-friendly.
As per Professor Che Connon, “Our 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing and it will be several years before we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants.
“However, what we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the world-wide shortage.”
The research paper ‘3D Bioprinting of a Corneal Stroma Equivalent’ is authored by Abigail Isaacson from the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Associate Researcher Dr. Stephen Swioklo & Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University Che J. Connon.
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