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First-ever 3D-printed human corneas created by scientists

/ 07:27 PM May 31, 2018

L-R: Dr Steve Swioklo, co-author, Prof Che Connon. Image: Newcastle University Press Office

3D printing continues to make waves in medicine. In the Philippines alone, 3D printing is alive and well, usually used in surgical procedures, as well as in creating patient-tailored implants and devices. 

Dr. Steve Swioklo and professor Che Connon, scientists at the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, have created the first-ever 3D-printed human corneas in history, with their innovation giving hope to almost 15 million people worldwide who are in dire need of cornea transplants. 

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Their study, published in Experimental Eye Research yesterday, May 30, showed 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.’”

The scientists used a low-cost 3D bio-printer and bio-ink to form the shape of a human cornea, as per the Newcastle University Press Office yesterday. The dimensions of the printed tissue are taken from an actual cornea, done by scanning a patient’s eye to accurately match its size and shape. The entire 3D printing process takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

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“Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible,” Connon told the Newcastle University Press Office, May 30. “Our unique gel — a combination of alginate and collagen — keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer.”

The 3D-printed corneas, however, won’t be available any time soon for transplant. Connon said that these would have to undergo further testing, and would take several years before they can actually be integrated inside the operating room.

“However, what we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the world-wide shortage.”

The video about Newcastle University’s 3D-printed corneas may be viewed below. JB

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TOPICS: 3D printing, cornea, Newcastle University, ophthalmology, optometry, United Kingdom
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