Scientists created a special bio-ink, using stem cells mixed together with alginate and collagen, they were able to print the cornea using a simple low-cost 3D bioprinter.
It is hoped that after further testing that still needs to be done, that this new technique could be used to help combat the worldwide shortage of corneas for the 15 million people that require a transplant.
The process mixes together stem cells – specifically human corneal stromal cells – from a healthy donor with alginate and collagen. To get the right consistency, the researchers added a jelly-like goo called alginate and stem cells extracted from donor corneas, along with some ropy proteins called 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 seem 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. These 3D-printed corneas are not ready for the human eye just yet, but one day these artificial corneas might help people see.