The scarcity of cornea donors for the treatment of corneal blindness led the scientists at Newcastle University to develop a unique technique of creating a cornea using 3D printing. The process could prove to be beneficial in the future to not only curb corneal blindness but also reduce the commercial price of cornea transplant operation.
The team of scientists created a bio-ink solution that could be used to print a cornea, by mixing stems cells from a healthy cornea with alginate and collagen. Further, they used a 3D bio-printer to form concentric circles using the developed ink, which grew into the shape of a human cornea. Led by Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, the invention aims to address the shortage of corneas available for transplantation. Connon explains how the bio-ink makes it plausible to print a human cornea, “The unique gel that we have created––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. We use this bio-ink that contains stem cells and allow the users to print the tissues without having to grow the cells separately.”
The technique can be further customized to build a 3D printed cornea, which matches with an individual patient’s eye. To collect data about the cornea’s size and shape, the patient’s eyes are scanned using a laser and then the cornea is 3D printed according to the gathered information. However, the technique requires adequate precision testing operations before it could be launched for human transplants. “This approach by our team has shown that it is possible to print human corneas using coordinates taken from a patient's eye,” says Connon.
Moreover, with this breakthrough invention, mankind has been brought closer to witnessing a reduction in the need for donor corneas, thereby positively impacting patients affected with the loss of sight.