3D Printer Creates Human Corneas That Can Treat Blindness

We can now 3D print corneas that could save 15 million people from going blind

Scientists at Newcastle University have printed the first 3D human corneas. According to their scientific paper, it took under 10 minutes to print their proof-of-concept cornea.

That said, it's an wonderful first step towards a solution, and could eventually give us an unlimited supply of corneas for transplant, anywhere in the world.

On top of that figure, around five million people are suffering from complete blindness due to corneal scarring commonly caused by lacerations, burns, diseases, and abrasions. That gel consisted of human corneal stem cells harvested from a healthy donor cornea, mixed with collagen and alginate (a polysaccharide found in algae). To do this, biomedical engineers need the use of human stem cells, and they have created a special bio-ink.

"Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible", Connon said, referring to the growth of stem cells achieved by the researchers.

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Newcastle University researchers have successfully produced artificial corneas using a low-priced 3D bio-printer and a gel formed from human corneal stromal cells, alginate and collagen. The research built upon the team's previous work when they kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar type of gel. That data was then used to print a cornea to the exact shape and size needed.

Professor Connon from the University acknowledges that it will be "several years before we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants". That part of the eye has a key role in focusing. It's not yet on the market, but if approved it would constitute a breakthrough in the field of corneal transplantation, which now relies on a slow process in addition to there not being enough available corneas to return sight to the 15 million people worldwide estimated as needing the procedure. The dimensions required for this were originally taken from an actual cornea, the team writes. The bio-ink served as a solution used for 3D printing of complex tissue models. It's possible to transplant a cornea and restore sight, but there's a major shortage of them.

Australian researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics developed a 3D-printable "clip-on" that turns a smartphone into a fully functional microscope, as a more accessible method to determine water quality, to analyse blood samples for parasites, or for early disease detection.

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