United Kingdom researchers first to 3D-print human corneas

01 June, 2018, 18:30 | Author: Lillian Steele
  • We can now 3D print corneas that could save 15 million people from going blind

Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have successfully created the first ever 3D-printed cornea, giving millions at risk of going blind new hope.

The project, which was described in Experimental Eye Research, holds potential for addressing the worldwide shortage in human donor corneas. By scanning a patient's eye the team were able to then enter the exact dimensions into the 3D printer and recreate an identical match.

But Professor Connon emphasised that the breakthrough requires further testing, which could last years.

Professor John Snowden, director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "We are thrilled with the results - they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis".

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Scientists used human corneal stromal cells from a healthy donor, along with alginate from seaweed, and collagen to create a "bio-ink". Gelatinous and multicellular, the artificial corneas are valuable steps towards much needed solutions for the millions of people suffering from eye disease and severe damage around the world. The tissues of the cornea are organized into five layers which serve their own functions. It protects the eye from bacteria and dust while also helping us to focus an image which eventually travels to the back of the eye, retina. Almost 5 million people around the world are blind due to infection scarred their corneas, according to the World Health Organization. This proof of concept study is released today in the journal - Experimental Eye Research.

"Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible", Professor Connon said.

What's even more impressive is that the cornea can be tailored to each patient. They combine unique printing techniques, cornea stem cells and a new bio ink to create corneas in just 10 minutes. But this research is a validation that you can 3D print something that looks like a cornea and contains mostly the same ingredients. 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. That could take several years at least before the first attempt at a surgery, Connon said. The innovative thing about them, however, is the material used for 3D printing, a special "bio-ink" created from stem cells.

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