The cornea is a transparent outer lens of the eye that serves a protective wall to keep out foreign particles and refracts light. Damage to this layer can cause partial or complete blindness.
So researchers at Newcastle University have created a human cornea through a 3D printer for the first time – a feat that can eventually help millions of people across the world who have corneal blindness.
The work was published in the journal Experimental Eye Research earlier this month. To create 3D printed corneas, scientists had to create an ink that’s thin enough to be pushed through a 3D printer’s nozzle and at the same time, it should be stiff enough to hold its shape.
Creating this composition was quite tricky, so they combined human stem cells from a healthy donor with collagen and alginate – a gooey substance obtained from algae to produce “bio-ink” for the 3D bio-printer.
It took less than 6 minutes for the device to print off a model of the cornea based on a scan of a person’s eye by squirting in concentric circles. After printing, the stem cells were added and left to grow to around the structure created by alginate and collagen – resulting in the world’s first 3D printed human cornea.
However, these artificially created corneas have a long way to go and require approvals before they could be transplanted into the human eye.
But it is a significant breakthrough as 10 million people worldwide need to undergo corneal blindness surgery and the number of corneal tissue donors is quite less. So the creation of artificial corneas can potentially combat this worldwide shortage.