The first human corneas have been 3D printed by scientists at Newcastle University, UK.
The outermost layer of the human eye, the cornea has an important role in focusing vision. Around 15 million people worldwide require surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disorder, scarring caused by burns or lacerations.
Yet there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant. This new technique could potentially be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas.
The scientists used stem cells from healthy human donor cornea tissue mixed together with alginate and collagen from sea weed to create a solution that could be printed, a 'bio-ink'. Using a simple low-cost 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was successfully extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea. It took less than 10 minutes to print.
The stem cells were then shown to culture -- or grow.
Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work, said:
"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. The dimensions of the printed tissue were originally taken from an actual patient cornea. Allowing the data to be used to rapidly print a exact match of the original.
This is absolutely amazing news!
The 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further trials. In a few years we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants to potentially combat the world wide shortage of donor corneas.