Human corneas have successfully been 3D printed for the first time by scientists at Newcastle University in England.
By mixing stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with alginate, a gel derived from seaweed, and collagen, researchers managed to create a “bio-ink” solution that can be printed.
The bio-ink can be successfully expelled out of the printer in concentric circles in the shape of a cornea in less than 10 minutes, according to a paper published in Experimental Eye Research.
By taking the dimensions of the patient’s actual cornea with scans, scientists can use the data to print a cornea that matches its size and shape.
The 3D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing but it is hoped the technique could be in regular use within five years.
Currently around 10 million people worldwide each year need surgery to prevent corneal blindness, and another five million already suffer total blindness from corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.