British scientists create human corneas using 3D printer

LONDON - Human corneas have successfully been 3D printed for the first time by scientists at Newcastle University in England, Xinhua news agency reported.

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, Xinhua said on Thursday (May 31).

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.

"Our unique bio-gel - a combination of alginate and collagen - keeps the stem cells alive while producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer," said lead researcher Che Connon in a press release.

Connon's team also showed it was possible to create a cornea that matches a patient's unique specifications, Xinhua said.

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.

Professor Connon said the research could help with the worldwide shortage of corneas for transplants.

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.