The eye out of the printer
As the outermost layer of the human eye, the cornea plays an important role as a protective function and in focusing. According to Newcastle University, ten million people worldwide need an implant to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disease. However, there is a significant shortage of donor corneas. This could change soon, because researchers have succeeded in producing an cornea implant in a 3D printer. This technique could be used in the future to ensure unlimited corneal care.
Newcastle University scientists used stem cells from a healthy donor cornea and combined them with collagen and alginate, a substance derived from algae. The result was a gel that was stiff enough to keep its shape, but soft enough to be squeezed out of the nozzle of a 3D printer. Printing takes less than ten minutes. A research report was recently published in the "Experimental Eye" journal.
In addition to the aforementioned corneal blindness as a result of infectious diseases such as trachoma, almost five million people are partially or completely blind from corneal scars. These scars are caused by burns, cuts, abrasion or illnesses. For those affected, there is now new hope for recurrent vision through a printed cornea.
All that is required for production is a simple and inexpensive 3D bioprinter, which converts the gel into the desired shape with concentric circular movements until a simulated human cornea is created in less than ten minutes.
Bio ink with stem cells
With this project, the scientists led by Professor Che Connon expanded previous research in the area in which cells within a similar gel were kept alive for weeks at room temperature. "Now we have a ready-to-use bio-ink that contains stem cells that allows users to print tissue without having to worry about growing the cells separately," Connon said in a press release about the research.
Individually tailored to the patient
The scientists also showed that they can build up a cornea that is tailored to the individual requirements of each patient. By scanning a patient's eye, researchers can collect data that can then be used to quickly print a cornea that matches the size and shape of the target.
Ready for use in a few years
"Our 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing and it will take a few more years before we can be in the position where we will use them for transplants," said Professor Connon. However, his team has already proven that it is possible to print customized corneas that have the potential to combat the lack of implants.
Corneal donations are still welcome
"However, it is important to note that we are still years away from making such implants available to patients and it is still vital that people continue to donate corneal tissue for transplantation," emphasizes Dr. Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Politics and Innovation for the Fight for Sight organization, which works for the visually impaired in the UK. (vb)