The cornea is a clear outer layer that covers the eye and plays a protective role. When it is damaged, it can cause serious vision problems and even blindness. A large number of people with corneal defects are hoping for a healthy corneal transplant from deceased donors, but the need far exceeds supply.
The first real human 3D corneas in the world have been found by scientists at the University of Newcastle in the UK. The amazing news today is the significant lack of corneal transplants available. This printing technique could be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of the cornea.
The cornea plays an important role in focusing vision. It is evident that currently, 10 million people worldwide need surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, which is a contagious eye disorder. We will also add here 5 million people who suffer total blindness due to corneal scars caused by tearing, burns, abrasion or various diseases.
Experimental Eye Research has released a report on how stem cells from healthy donor corneas are mixed with alginate and collagen to create a so-called “bio-ink” solution. This bio-ink is based on the successful extrusion of concentric circles that form the shape of the human cornea using a simple inexpensive 3D bio-printer. This printing process takes a very short time, about 5 minutes.
According to Che Connon, of the University of Newcastle, who led the work as a professor of tissue engineering, he said:
“Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible. Our unique gel – a combination of alginate and collagen – keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material that is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer. This builds upon our previous work in which we kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar hydrogel. Now we have a ready to use bio-ink containing stem cells allowing users to start printing tissues without having to worry about growing the cells separately.”
He adds that 3D-printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing, which would take several years before they could be in the position in which they were used for transplantation.
A study from the University of Newcastle has also shown that they can make a cornea that may be complementary to a patient’s unique specifications.
The procedure is as follows:
– Scan the patient’s eyes,
– Use data to quickly print a cornea that is appropriate in size and shape.
This incredible breakthrough in science can enhance the lives of people with vision problems in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Artificial corneas are an invention that can actually restore vision to millions of blind or partially blind people, but this needs to be technologically advanced beforehand. Scientists firmly believe that a corneal transplant can give someone the gift of vision that is absolutely amazing!
Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy, and Innovation at Fight for Sight, points out that they are delighted with the success of researchers at Newcastle University in the development of 3D corneal printing. The significant progress made in this area has reduced the need for donors, which would have a positive impact on some patients living with visual impairment.
Yet, since this method is still far from potentially available to patients, it is still vital that people continue to donate corneal tissue for transplantation. It is evident that in the UK there is still a lack of corneal tissue for transplantation.