One of the important parts of the eye that allows humans to see is the outer layer known as the cornea. That part of the eye has a key role in focusing. For people with cornea problems, the only hope of clear vision is a cornea transplant from a donor, which are hard to come by. Researchers have now been able to 3D print the first human corneas that could eliminate the shortage.
The process mixes together stem cells, specifically human corneal stromal cells, from a healthy donor with alginate and collagen. The solution creates a bio-ink solution that can be used in a 3D printer. That solution was successfully extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of the human cornea in less than ten minutes.
The stem cells were then shown to grow meaning that the 10 million people globally needing corneal transplants have new hope. The gel material is stiff enough to hold its shape while being soft enough for 3D printing. Corneas were printed to match the unique specifications of a patient.
Dimensions of the cornea, in that case, were taken from an actual cornea by scanning the patient’s eye. That data was then used to print a cornea to the exact shape and size needed. The team says that the 3D printed corneas must undergo further testing.
It will be several years in the future before the 3D printed corneas will be ready to use in transplants according to the scientists. The team says that a corneal transplant could give people back their sight.