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South Korean Scientists develop artificial 3D Printed Corneas from Stem Cells

3D printed cornea
3D printed cornea
Above: South Korean scientists develop artificial 3D printed corneas from stem cells

Researchers at the Pohang University of Science and Technology and Kyungpook National University in South Korea recently 3D printed an artificial cornea to mimic the human eye using a bioink made of decellularised corneal stroma and stem cells.

The research published in Biofabrication states that the recent cornea is made from corneal tissue-derived bioink. It is biocompatible, and 3D cell printing technology recapitulates the corneal microenvironment, therefore, its transparency is similar to the human cornea. 

Above: Comparison of 3D printed and Non- 3D printed cornea/Image Credit: Postech

Many scientists, earlier, have tried to develop artificial corneas but they used recombinant collagen or other chemical substances such as synthetic polymer. This, therefore, does not incorporate well with the patient’s eye or sometimes they are not transparent after the cornea implant.

The human cornea is the first thin layer which covers the pupil and protects the eye from any external environment. Since it is the first layer and admits light, it needs to be transparent and move as the pupil moves and also have flexibility. The human cornea achieves these impressive tasks by being organized in a lattice pattern of collagen fibrils.

For an artificial cornea to perform all these tasks is a complicated ask. Since all previous methods have not proven to be highly useful, the recent 3D printed cornea is truly an amazing feat.

To accurately replicate the pattern of the cornea, the scientists used the shear stress generated in the 3D printing process. The innovation makes use of the frictional force generated by the 3D printing process.

When the ink in the printer comes out through the nozzle, shear stress occurs. By regulating this phenomenon, the research team successfully reproduced an efficient transparent artificial cornea that featured the lattice pattern of the human cornea.

According to one of the research team member, Professor Jinah Jang of Creative IT Convergence Engineering, “The suggested strategy can achieve the criteria for both transparency and safety of engineered cornea stroma. We believe it will give hope to many patients suffering from cornea related diseases.”

The team successfully produced transparent artificial cornea with the lattice pattern of human cornea by regulating the shear stress to control the pattern of collagen fibrils.

They also observed that the collagen fibrils remodelled along with the printing path create a lattice pattern similar to the structure of native human cornea after 4 weeks in vivo.


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