A very recent publication (May 2018) of researchers from the University of Newcastle showed that creating human corneas in a 3D printer was possible. The cornea, the external, transparent and resistant part of the eye, is formed by alive cells that can suffer environment and trauma aggressions. Moreover, many genetic mutations cause inherited corneal dystrophies (e.g. Ched corneal endothelial, Fehr corneal, Fleck corneal, Groenouw corneal dystrophies among many others). In fact, around five million people worldwide are blind due to corneal trauma or genetic corneal dystrophies. Corneal transplantation from post-mortem donors have been a successful approach to treat this type of blindness, but the number of donors is very limited. Other therapeutic avenues explore the generation of artificial corneas or corneas regenerated with stem cells.
In this report, the scientists have made a relevant technological advance, since they have successfully printed 3D human cornea-like structures by combining stem cells from a healthy donor with a compatible biogel made of alginate and collagen, as “ink”. The biogel composition is the main progress of their work, since according to the authors “it 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”.
3D printed corneas will allow overcoming the shortage of healthy cornea donors by generating corneas on demand, tailored for every patient, in an unlimited basis. A real promise for people suffering from corneal-derived blindness.
(Image de Isaacson, Swioklo, Connon. 2018. Experimental Eye Research. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2018.05.010)