Researchers at Newcastle University have been able to 3D-print a biocompatible corneal framework using a new gel formulation that “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.”
There is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant, with 10 million people worldwide requiring surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disorder,” wrote the researchers. “In addition, almost 5 million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.”
The product uses “human corneal stromal cells” from a donor cornea mixed with alginate and collagen to create bio-ink that can turn into a living cornea. This means that one donor cornea can help multiple patients.
“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,” said researcher Che Connon. He built the technology with Dr. Steve Swioklo.
The corneas take ten minutes to print on a cheap 3D printer, a vast improvement on previous efforts. Further, the gel can keep stem cells alive for days, allowing you to print a few corneas over the course of a week.