Now, British scientists report they have created human corneas using 3D-printing technology.
This proof-of-concept ticked all the boxes: the scientists were able to print out a cornea, as a series of concentric circles, in less than 10 minutes.
The cornea is the outer layer of the human eye and plays a central role in focusing our vision.
On top of that figure, around five million people are suffering from complete blindness due to corneal scarring commonly caused by lacerations, burns, diseases, and abrasions. They mixed the cornea stem cells with two different chemical components, alginate and collagen, to create "bio-ink".
The team then printed the shape of a human cornea using a low-priced bio printer - a process that took less than 10 minutes - and allowed the stem cells to grow.
Study co-author Che Connon, a professor of tissue engineering at the university, says that the greatest advantage of the "bio-ink" is that it maintains the stem cells alive throughout the whole 3D printing process.
This 3d printing technique does not absolutely eliminate the need for cornea donations because those are essential for making the stem cell part of the recipe. The eye requiring a cornea transplant is scanned to figure out the exact size and shape of cornea required. Connon said in a statement that the printed corneas will have to undergo several years of testing before they become a viable transplant option.
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 incredible feat of engineering was achieved by researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, who hope that their work can help relieve the serious shortage of corneas available for transplant. It protects the eye from bacteria and dust while also helping us to focus an image which eventually travels to the back of the eye, retina.
Other researchers have managed to print cartilage in 3D, a very promising method because this tissue cannot regenerate. This makes the cornea vulnerable to infections and damage - that can lead to blindness. It also needed to support 3D printed structure by being stiff enough.
The 3D-bioprinting method did not annul a need for cornea donations. Cornea transplant would no longer mean one donor to a patient.
Bioengineers noted that now with new unique gel (bio-ink) can be printed the cornea for anyone.
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