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Scientists produced world’s first 3D printed corneas

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Posted May 31, 2018

If your cornea gets damaged because of injury or disease, your best option is transplantation. However, there is an extreme shortage of corneas suitable for transplant – currently there are 15 million people worldwide waiting for cornea transplant. But now scientists from the Newcastle University have made an important breakthrough – they created the first 3D printed human cornea in the world.

3D printed cornea can be matched to exact patient’s specifications. Image credit: Newcastle University

While transplant may be needed after injury (such as burns, lacerations or abrasion), typically it becomes required after such diseases as trachoma – an infectious eye disorder. Transplant can prevent corneal blindness, because cornea is actually very important part of an eye. It is the outermost layer of the human eye, which plays an important role in focusing vision. Now scientists took human corneal stromal cells from a healthy donor and mixed them with alginate and collagen, creating bio-ink, which can then be used with a simple bio-3D printer. It took less than 10 minutes for scientists to print world’s first 3D printed human eye cornea.

The task wasn’t easy – many teams have attempted this before and failed. Bio-ink has to maintain stem cells alive and be the right consistency – rigid enough to keep its structure and yet malleable enough to be squeezed out by the 3D printer. The team previously kept stem cells alive in a hydrogel for weeks at room temperature. And so the logical next step was to start printing corneas. Scientists also demonstrated that corneas can be manufactured according to unique patients’ specifications. Person’s eye gets scanned and then cornea can be reproduced in size and shape in a 3D printer. Scientists are already hopeful that this achievement will allow them to combat the world-wide shortage of corneas.

Of course, before actual transplant can be done 3D printed corneas will have to go through extensive testing. But scientists think that the method is feasible and the product is of high quality. Dr Neil Ebenezer, director of research, policy and innovation at Fight for Sight, said: “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”.

Because transplants of 3D corneas are still years away, people should continue to donate their corneas. The shortage is positively huge and this technology is not going to solve it 100 %. At least not for now, but we will see after testing is complete.

Source: Newcastle University

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