Two of the creators of the artificial cornea, Steve Swioklo and Professor Che Connon. Swioklo
Two of the creators of the artificial cornea, Steve Swioklo, and Professor Che Connon. Swioklo is holding up a dyed cornea.


About 3D printed cornea

Scientists have invented a new 3D printed, thin protective film over the eye known as the cornea. It is made using human cells — and it is the most advanced version of an artificial cornea. If this technology improves, it could help millions of people. Professor Che Connon, a tissue engineer at Newcastle University who was one of the inventors of the 3D artificial cornea says, it was so tricky to find out the correct recipe for an ink which is thin enough to squirt into a 3D printer’s nozzle.

Scientists have 3D printed the most advanced artificial cornea ever using human cells

They’re not ready for human eyes yet, but one day these artificial corneas might help people

How the 3D printed cornea made?

Source: New Castle University
Source: New Castle University

This bio-ink should be thin and it also had to be stiff enough to hold its shape as a 3D structure. To get the right consistency to the cornea, the researchers added a jelly-like substance called alginate and stem cells which are extracted from the donor corneas, and also some ropy proteins called collagen are also added. The cornea is the first lens of human eye where light passes through before hitting the retina which is present at the back of the eye. If cornea damages, then it may lead to blindness. At present, the damaged corneas are replaced with healthy ones from donor corneas, but there are not sufficient donated corneas. According to the World Health Organization.

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About  5 million people around the world are blind because their corneas are damaged. The new technique, which is described today in the journal Experimental Eye Research, can’t be given directly to the people who are blind — those are key for making the stem cell part of the recipe. But, the donation goes a lot farther by using the technique,  Che Connon says. Instead of replacing the damaged cornea with the healthy cornea, you could grow enough cells from one healthy donated cornea to print about 50 artificial new corneas. To know what exactly should be printed, the team also had to know the shape of a human cornea. So the researcher’s used a specialized camera to image a victim’s eyeball and create a 3D model of their’s cornea. Then, the team keeps the image into a 3D printer, and with the help of the bio-ink 3D printer creates the cornea. And the final result will look like a very soft contact lens in a bath of goo. This study is a proof that you can print in 3D something that looks like a cornea and contains mostly the same substances. It is also the first time researchers have recreated the cornea’s distinctive, curved shape.

If this technology improves, then it will be useful for millions of people.

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