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A team of scientists has finally managed to 3D-print a human cornea, the very thin protective film that is placed over the eye. In order to successfully do this, they used real human cells, creating the most advanced artificial cornea in the world. With a little improvement in technology, this kind of artificial cornea could help millions of people regain their sight. According to Che Connon from Newcastle University who took part in this project, the hardest part was to find the right ink, thin enough to squirt through the nozzle of a 3D printer.
The problem was that this bio ink also needed to be stiff enough to maintain its shape like a real 3D structure. So, the team decided to add a jelly-like substance called alginate, collagen, and some stem cells from donor corneas to provide that stability. It’s worth noting that light first passes through the cornea before reaching the retina inside the human eye. If the cornea gets damages, either from injury or illness, vision can be affected, and can even lead to blindness. At the moment, doctors replace damaged corneas with healthy real ones from deceased donors. Unfortunately, there are not enough for everyone.
Advanced 3D-printed cornea finally created
According to official numbers from the World Health Organization, about 5 million people in the entire world are blind because of cornea infections. The idea of this project, Connon says, is not to completely eliminate the option of human donors. Instead, extracting stem cells from a human cornea could help other 50 artificial ones grow.
In order to obtain the exact shape of a human cornea, the team created a 3D model after a volunteer’s eyeball. Using that template, the 3D printer created the cornea. The artificial component looks like a soft contact lens surrounded by a lot of goo. Still, it will take some time before these corneas will be used for transplant. Still, it’s a big step forward.
Image source: wikimedia