Newcastle University in the UK has claimed the first ever 3D-printed human corneas, which could potentially be used in the future for corneal transplants.
Outlined in Experimental Eye Research, the process mixes stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with alginate and collagen to create a "bio-ink". This bio-ink is extruded from a low-cost 3D bio printer in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea within 10 minutes.
The stem cells were then shown to grow, the university added, allowing users to start printing tissues without having to grow the cells separately.
The university said that this procedure could tackle a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant and may benefit millions of people worldwide requiring corneal surgery to prevent blindness.
"Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible," said Che Connon, professor of Tissue Engineering at the university who led the research. "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."
Scientists also demonstrated the ability to use data from an eye scan to print a cornea that matches a patient's specifications. Connon said that the 3D-printed corneas will undergo further testing, meaning it could be several years before they're used for transplants.
3D printing methods are increasingly being used in the field of prosthetics and healthcare; earlier this year, US researchers found a way to develop soft robots with embedded touch sensing, using a 3D printed conductive ink.
Australian researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics developed a 3D-printable "clip-on" that turns a smartphone into a fully functional microscope, as a more accessible method to determine water quality, to analyse blood samples for parasites, or for early disease detection.
Similarly, US researchers developed a prototype smartphone case that uses 3D-printing technology embedded with an optical sensor to monitor blood pressure.
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