Cornea transplants are done for a number of reasons. The cornea (clear, curved window on the front of the eye) can become damaged from disease or injury, and when this occurs often the only way to restore vision is by removing it and replacing with a donor cornea. These tissues historically have come from deceased donors, but there are far more patients who need new corneas than there are donors for replacement. To solve this problem, scientists have come up with an alternative – 3D printed corneas!
In a research paper published in Experimental Eye Research engineers from Newcastle University have combined 3D printing technology and human stem cells to produce the most advanced bio-engineered cornea to date. The “ink” for the printer is obtained from stem cells from donor corneas combined with a substrate that can maintain its structure when printed in 3 dimensions. Donated corneas are still required, but because stem cells can be grown from these, one cornea donation can grow enough cells to 3D-print 50 artificial ones.
Artificial corneas will still require actual cornea donations, but they’ll be able to make each cornea donation go a lot farther. Instead of replacing one damaged cornea with a healthy one, scientists would be able to grow enough cells from one donated cornea to print 50 artificial ones.
This technology, once proven successful could bring hope to millions of visually impaired people around the world.
– Dr. Tom Wilk