The first human corneas have been 3D printed by scientists at Newcastle University, UK, which could lead to an unlimited supply of corneas for transplant in the future.
The proof-of-concept research, published in Experimental Eye Research, reports how stem cells from a healthy donor cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a ‘bio-ink’ that could be printed.
“Our unique gel keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer,” said Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work.
Custom made for every patient
The scientists also demonstrated that they could build a cornea to match a patient’s unique specifications. The dimensions of the printed tissue were taken from an actual cornea by scanning the patient’s eye and that data was used to print a cornea of the same size and shape.
“Our 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing and it will be several years before we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants,” Professor Connon said. “However, what we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the worldwide shortage.”