First 3-D Printed Human Corneas

Science news 3D printed organs cornea

Researchers have now been able to 3D print the first human corneas that could eliminate the shortage. One donated cornea could be used to print as many as 50 artificial corneas. Because this surgery is used cornea, the number of needy patients exceeds the number of available organs for transplant.

The outermost layer plays a protective role by preventing dust and other foreign material from entering the eye. To get the right consistency, the researchers added a jelly like goo called alginate and stem cells extracted from donor corneas, along with some ropy proteins called collagen.

Professor Connon said: "Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible". The researchers used a low-priced bio-printer as well as bio-ink, which consists of stem cells from the donor of a healthy cornea, collagen and salts of alginic acids (derived from seaweed), thus producing a material hard enough to retain the shape but also soft enough to print.

As Connon explains, the team had previously worked on a project in which they devised a similar hydrogel that managed to keep cells alive at room temperature for several weeks. The final step is allowing this structure to grow into a cornea on a culture dish. They could then use the data to rapidly 3D print a cornea which matched the size and shape.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIBP) estimates more than two million people, or one in 30, in the United Kingdom live with sight loss.

The Newcastle researchers - Abigail Isaacson, a PhD student from the Institute of Genetic Medicine; Dr. Stephen Swioklo; and Che J. Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering - have 3D printed the first human corneas, and published their proof of concept research in a paper, titled "3D Bioprinting of a Corneal Stroma Equivalent", in the journal Experimental Eye Research this month. It's also a part of the eye that doesn't always age gracefully and is susceptible to damage from infections or disease. People can donate their corneas after they die, however, the demand now outweighs the supply.

Scientists at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom produced human corneas.

3D printers are quite commonplace now, with a plastic material typically squeezed out of a nozzle to slowly build up a shape in layers. The dimensions required for this were originally taken from an actual cornea, the team writes.

"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".

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