3D-Printed Human Corneas Are Now a Reality

3D-Printed Human Corneas Are Now a Reality

3D-Printed Human Corneas Are Now a Reality

Scientists have for the first time designed and 3D printed human corneas.

The team used stem cells extracted from the cornea of a healthy donor and mixed it with alginate - used by dentists to make false teeth - and collagen - the main structural protein found in skin - to create a gel-like substance serving as the ink. In the future, a simple scan of a patient's eye will enable doctors to print a cornea that perfectly matches the size and shape of their eyeballs. Nearly five million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.

However, despite the success of their first attempt, the researchers firmly stated that their study requires further testing and might still take years before it could be used in real corneal transplants. He also added that doctors could easily tailor the exact shape of the 3D-printed corneas through a 3D image or a set of coordinates.

Using a simple low-priced 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea - in less than 10 minutes.

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The awesome thing about the 3D-printed human corneas is that they can be custom made, notes the university.

As the outermost layer of the human eye, the cornea has an important role in focusing vision, but there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant. Around 5 million people suffer total blindness due to corneal dysfunction caused by burns, accident or disease. What's more, the process only took the team ten minutes to complete.

3D printers are quite commonplace now, with a plastic material typically squeezed out of a nozzle to slowly build up a shape in layers.

According to experts, the gel allows you to maintain the activity of stem cells during the creation of the material.

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3D printing methods are increasingly being used in the field of prosthetics and healthcare; earlier this year, United States researchers found a way to develop soft robots with embedded touch sensing, using a 3D printed conductive ink. Their technique could eventually lead to a cornea mass-production system that could help the millions of people waiting for a transplant. That means many people don't have access to corneal transplantation.

The researchers have published a proof-of-concept research paper in Experimental Eye Research.

When will the 3D-printed corneas be ready for use?

Connon and his colleagues previously managed to keep stem cells alive for weeks at room temperature in a similar bio-ink.

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