Newcastle scientists have made a major breakthrough in tackling a worldwide shortage of eye donors after 3D printing human corneas for the first time.

 

The revolutionary technique, carried out at Newcastle University, could be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas.

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, with ten million people worldwide requiring surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disorder.

 

In addition, almost five million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.

 

The proof-of-concept research, published on Wednesday in Experimental Eye Research, reports how stem cells (human corneal stromal cells) from a healthy donor cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a solution that could be printed, a ‘bio-ink’.

 

Using a simple low-cost 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was successfully extruded in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea. It took less than ten minutes to print.