We can now 3D print corneas that could save 15 million people from going blind

Picture: Getty Images

  • Team develops ‘bio-ink’ combining stem cells, alginate and collagen.
  • Exact cornea shape can be scanned from patient and printed in 10 minutes.
  • Up to 15 million people relying on cornea donors to avoid blindness.

Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have successfully 3D printed the first human corneas.

Experimental Eye Research reports the team mixed stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with alginate and collagen to create a “bio-ink”.

Using a simple low-cost 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea – in less than 10 minutes.

The stem cells were then shown to grow. And the team also showed how the corneas could be grown to match a patient’s unique specifications by scanning their eye first to determine the correct size and shape for the printed tissue.

Corneal blindness is estimated to threaten up to 10 million people worldwide, with another five million suffering total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.

With a “significant shortage” of corneas available to transplant, Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, said many teams across the world “have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible”.

“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.”

Connon said it would still be several years before humans could start receiving the 3D printed corneas, but the team had “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 world-wide shortage”.

The research was published today in Experimental Eye Research.

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