The Verge has caught wind of an exciting new advancement in the treatment of eyes brought about by the wonderful world of additive manufacturing.
The cornea is the thin protective film over the eye. “The cornea is the first lens light passes through before eventually hitting the retina at the back of the eye. Damage to the cornea — from injury or infection — can distort vision, or even lead to blindness. Right now, the damaged corneas are replaced with healthy ones from deceased donors, but there aren’t enough donated corneas to go around.” Indeed, according to the World Health Organization, “nearly 5 million people [globally] are blind due to infection scarred corneas.”
This is where a team from Newcastle University comes in. These scientists have recently had a breakthrough. They have managed to 3D print a cornea using human cells – “the most advanced version of an artificial cornea yet. Should the technology improve, it could help millions of people see again.”
As Newcastle University Tissue Engineer Che Connon explains: “it was tricky to find the right recipe for an ink thin enough to squirt through a 3D printer’s nozzle. This bio-ink doesn’t just have to be thin, it also has to be stiff enough it could hold its shape as a 3D structure. To get the right consistency, the team added a jelly-like goo called alginate and stem cells extracted from donor corneas, along with some ropy proteins called collagen.”
The team is quick to add their 3D printed corneas “don’t completely eliminate a need for cornea donations. Those are key for making the stem cell part of the recipe. But, using this technique, the donation goes a lot farther. Instead of replacing one damaged cornea with one healthy one, you could grow enough cells from one donated cornea to print 50 artificial ones.”
Image and Quotes Courtesy of The Verge