3-D Printed Human Corneas

Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a technique that allows the printing of 3-D  human corneas. Currently there is a shortage of corneas due to the 10 million people worldwide who require cornea transplants. Most of these people suffer from diseases such as trachoma, or corneal scarring inflicted by burns and abrasion. This technological breakthrough will ensure an unlimited number of corneas for the future, allowing patients to receive the surgeries they need.

The research, published in Experimental Eye Research, describes the process of 3-D printing a cornea. Scientists scan a patient’s eye to receive the actual dimensions and shape of the cornea. Then, human corneal stem cells from a healthy donor are combined with alginate and collagen to create a printable solution called “bio-ink.” When used with a 3-D printer, this “bio-ink” is printed into circles that form the shape of a human cornea in just under 10 minutes!

Once the cornea has been developed, doctors are able to perform a cornea transplant surgery that involves the removal of damaged tissue and the replacement with healthy donor tissue. This operation can relieve pain, improve sight, and repair damage to the eye.

Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, describes how their “unique gel—a combination of alginate and collagen—keeps the stem cells alive while producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3-D printer.”

                Although it may take several years before this technology is used on patients, this method will most likely eliminate the cornea shortage in the near future.