Sufferers of corneal blindness due to burns, diseases, and other misfortunes can see the light once again; for Newcastle University researchers have found a way to 3D print human corneas in just 10 minutes.
Using ‘bio-ink’ as the additive material – a solution made from human stem cells, collagen, and alginate – Professor of Tissue Engineering Che Connon and his team have found a way to preserve stem cells while producing a material soft but solid enough to come out of a 3D printer nozzle. This could mean a limitless supply of corneas and a lesser need for donors for those 10 million people worldwide who need surgery to prevent corneal blindness, plus the 5 million who already suffer from it.
The cornea is the outermost layer of the human eye which helps focus our sight and protects the inner layers from bacteria and dirt. But since it does this over the course of our entire lifespan, it is prone to injury and diseases such as trachoma which can cause corneal blindness. These 3D printed corneas would easily solve the cornea transplant shortage as well as the immense cost of doing the surgeries.
Before printing the corneas, researchers scan a patient’s eyes to determine the proper dimensions and shape of the cornea. This allows them to print a replica specific to the ailing person.
Professor Connon states the 3D printed corneas will still have to undergo more testing before actual transplants can be done, but the fact the technology exists means an end to the worldwide cornea shortage may soon be in sight.