Newcastle University scientists use 3D printer to create artificial corneas

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Scientists have 3D printed corneas for the first time in new research, offering hope to the million-s of people around the world whose eyesight is affected by damage to the delicate tissue. According to their scientific paper, it took under 10 minutes to print their proof-of-concept cornea.

The technique demonstrated in the research could potentially be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas.

The cornea has a significant role in helping us focus and barricading our eyes against dirt and bacteria. As such, there are over 10 million people worldwide who risk corneal blindness from diseases such as trachoma (an infectious eye disease), and nearly 5 million who are completely blind due to burns, lacerations or abrasion of the cornea.

The team create a bio-ink using human corneal stromal cells from a healthy donor. They then print the corneas in concentric circles, at which point the stem cells grow around the bio-ink.

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A group of researchers from Newcastle University under the leadership of Che Connon (Che Connon) learned using 3D printer to create an artificial cornea, partly consisting of these cells of the cornea - keratocytes. The research built upon the team's previous work when they kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar type of gel. "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 Connon.

As documented in the journal Experimental Eye Research, the team used a low-priced 3D printer to craft these artificial corneas.

Because the methodology relies on corneal cells instead of an entire cornea, one donor can help multiple patients.

Other researchers have managed to print cartilage in 3D, a very promising method because this tissue cannot regenerate.

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Finding the precise recipe for an ink that's stiff enough to maintain its shape and flexible to be squeezed through nozzle was tricky, Connon said.

The cornea is a vital part of the eye but unfortunately there are some 10 million people around the world requiring surgery there is a chronic shortage or corneas available for transplant.

Newcastle University's Professor Che Connon and colleagues examined the feasibility of generating artificial, biological corneas using pneumatic 3D extrusion bioprinting. They say this method will allow them to create custom-made cornea transplants to suit the patient's needs.

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