First 3D-printed cornea developed by scientists | Innovation

A technique developed by scientists at Newcastle University could help prevent corneal blindness in the future, through an unlimited supply of 3D printed corneas.

A team of scientists from the University mixed stems cells from a healthy with alginate and collagen to create a bio-ink solution that could be 3D printed.

The scientists then used a 3D bio-printer to form the bio-ink using concentric circles which grew the ink into the shape of a human cornea.

Currently there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant and 10 million people across the world require surgery to prevent corneal blindness.

Che Connon, professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work, stated that teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make the process possible.

“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 team also showed that they could build a 3D printed cornea which matched a patient’s unique specifications. By scanning a patient’s eye, the team were able to rapidly print a cornea using data to match the cornea’s size and shape.

The technique needs to undergo further testing and it will be several years before they are available for human transplants.

“What we have 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,” Connon added.

Dr Neil Ebenezer, director of research, policy and at the charity Fight for Sight, said: “We are delighted at the success of researchers at Newcastle University in developing 3D printing of corneas using human tissue.

“This research highlights the significant progress that has been made in this area and this study is important in bringing us one step closer to reducing the need for donor corneas, which would positively impact some patients living with sight loss.

“However, it is important to note that this is still years away from potentially being available to patients and it is still vitally important that people continue to donate corneal tissue for transplant as there is a shortage within the UK.

“A corneal transplant can give someone back the gift of sight.”

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