Scientists at Newcastle University managed to 3D print human corneas.
The research, published in the Experimental Eye Research Journal, reports that ‘stem cells (human corneal stromal cells) from a healthy donor cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a solution that could be printed, a ‘bio-ink’. Using a simple low-cost 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was successfully extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea. It took less than 10 minutes to print.’
Subsequently, the stem cells started to grow around the 3D printed scaffolding to create a cornea.
‘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.
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.”
The printed corneas will have to continue being tested for a few more years before they are deemed fit to be used for transplants.
It is worth noting that there is a shortage of corneas available for transplant and that there are 10 million people around the world that require surgery in order to prevent corneal blindness or who suffer from total blindness due to corneal scarring.
Though the 3D printed corneas are years away from being available to patients, eventually, these transplants will be able to give sight back to millions.