Health Care

First 3D-printed human corneas could treat blindness

First 3D-printed human corneas could treat blindness

The first 3D printed corneas have been designed by researchers from the Newcastle University in United Kingdom that yet need to undergo further testing. The solution, "bio-ink" was created by combining collagen with alginate (a tissue-generating type of sugar) and healthy corneal stem cells.

Scientists from Britain printed on a 3D printer artificial analogue of the human cornea, which is based on donor keratocytes - cells, which comprise a large part of the cornea person. It prints out layers of "bio-ink", building them up in concentric circles, to form a cornea-shaped scaffolding.

The cornea is the transparent, outermost layer forming the front of the eye which plays a key role in vision by controlling and focusing the entry of light into the eye.

Millions of patients around the world need surgery to prevent corneal blindness caused by eye disorders.

For transplantation, corneas are harvested within 24 hours from death by trained professionals and stored in eye banks. The problem lies in coming up with a bio-ink that's stiff enough to retain its shape while still capable of being squeezed through a printing nozzle. This makes the cornea vulnerable to infections and damage - that can lead to blindness. Outlined in the eye research, the process mixes stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with alginate to create a bio-ink that is extruded from a low-priced 3D bio-printer in concentric circles to form a human cornea. He also added that doctors could easily tailor the exact shape of the 3D-printed corneas through a 3D image or a set of coordinates. Then, the researchers fed that template to a 3D printer, which splashed the bio-ink into a supportive bed of Jello to create the cornea.

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A special camera was used by the researchers to image the eyeball of a volunteer from which a 3D model of their cornea was created.

By scanning a patient's eye, dimensions from an actual cornea could be used to quickly print a cornea of the same size and shape.

The corneas take ten minutes to print on a cheap 3D printer, a vast improvement on previous efforts.

When will the 3D-printed corneas be ready for use? However one day these artificial corneas might help people see. According to the World Health Organisation, corneal blindness is the fourth leading cause of blindness globally, so it's pretty worrying to note there's now a transplant shortage in the UK.


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