Scientists have 3D printed human corneas for the first time

Pearl Mccarthy
June 1, 2018

Scientists at Newcastle University have printed the first 3D human corneas. The printer can perfectly match the size and shape required and takes less than 10 minutes to recreate the cornea artificially.

A special camera was used by the researchers to image the eyeball of a volunteer from which a 3D model of their cornea was created.

The cornea is the outer layer of the human eye and plays a central role in focusing our vision.

Scientists created a "bio-ink" to 3-D print human corneas. Bio-ink was printed in concentric circles and gradually formed the shape of a cornea, and then the stem cells grown in normal tissue, which can be programmed in advance to have the exact dimensions of the patient's eye.

To remedy the shortage of corneas available Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, and his research team created a printable bioink solution from donor stem cells, alginate, and collagen.

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By creating a "bio-ink" using human corneal stromal cells mixed together with alginate and collagen, the researchers were able to print the corneas using a simple low-priced 3D bioprinter.

"This builds upon our previous work in which we kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar hydrogel", he said.

Scientists have developed an innovative method of 3D printed artificial corneas using human cells - a development that could help millions on the waiting list for a corneal transplant. It bends and focuses light into the eye. In fact, over 10 million people worldwide are in need of eye surgery to prevent potential corneal blindness. It's not yet on the market, but if approved it would constitute a breakthrough in the field of corneal transplantation, which now relies on a slow process in addition to there not being enough available corneas to return sight to the 15 million people worldwide estimated as needing the procedure. This makes the cornea vulnerable to infections and damage - that can lead to blindness. Che Connon said in a university release.

3D printers are quite commonplace now, with a plastic material typically squeezed out of a nozzle to slowly build up a shape in layers. He believes that bio-ink could solve the problem in the future.

Publication: 3D Bioprinting of a Corneal Stroma Equivalent. The new technique, which could produce multiple corneas per donor, might help reduce that deficit if put into practice.

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