Newcastle University Scientists Create First Ever 3D-Printed Human Corneas

June 1, 2018: By Jon Swedien

Scientists from Newcastle University in the UK have made the first human corneas created with a 3D printer, according to a university news release.

The researchers mixed stem cells (human corneal stromal cells) from a healthy donor with alginate and collagen to create a solution that could be printed, the university said. Scientists dubbed it a “bio-ink.”

Researchers then used a low-cost 3D bio-printer to successfully extrude the bio-ink in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea. It took less than 10 minutes to print, the university said.

The researchers also showed that they could build a cornea to match a patient’s unique specifications, the university said.

Dimensions of the printed tissue were originally taken from an actual cornea, and by scanning a patient’s eye, researchers used the data to rapidly print a cornea that matched the size and shape of the actual cornea.

In the future, the technique could be used to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas, the university said.

According to the university, there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant and 10 million people worldwide who require surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of disease; an additional 5 million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion, or disease.

Che Connon, professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle, led the work.

The research highlights the progress that has been made toward reducing the need for donor corneas, said Neil Ebenezer, MD, director of research, policy, and innovation at Fight for Sight. He added, however, that it will be years before the technology is available to patients.

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