The first human 3D printed corneas have been created by scientists at Newcastle University. This is good news as it means there could be an unlimited supply of corneas to ensure vision in millions of people in the future. It also marks another milestone in the 3-dimensional study.
The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye and it is highly susceptible to damage which can lead to blindness. This protective, clear outer layering plays an important role in focusing vision. Currently, people with damaged corneas can be treated with transplants from deceased donors. This need exceeds the supply hence the search for a more long-lasting solution.
As detailed in the paper published in Experimental Eye Research, the 3D printed corneas are not very easy to develop. Finding the distinctive curve shape of a human cornea was a problem. The researchers used a special camera to photograph a volunteer’s eyeball to create the 3D model. The report shows how stem cells (human corneal stromal cells) from a healthy donor cornea were mixed with alginate and collagen to create a solution (bio-ink) that could be printed. By using a simple low-cost 3D printer, the bio-ink was successfully extruded in concentric circles to form a shape of a human cornea. This process took less than 10 minutes.
“Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible,” said Che Connon, a professor at Newcastle University who led the research. “Our unique gel 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. 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.”
Connon added: “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 worldwide shortage.” The result of the test looks similar to contact lens but can do more in repairing vision.
In addition to this, almost 5 million people suffer from blindness caused by corneal scarring. The scarring can be caused by burns, lacerations, abrasions or disease. Seeing the shortage of corneas available for transplants the study shows that instead of replacing damaged corneas, it provides a way to actually grow enough cells from a donated cornea to print 50 artificial ones. #Rewordit