Each year, roughly 5 million people around the world lose sight in both eyes due to corneal dysfunction from disease or accident. Cornea transplants are one solution to the issue, but there happens to be a worldwide shortage of corneas. According to a recent Financial Times article, a team at Newcastle University has developed a way to 3D print human corneas, and it could permanently solve the issue.
The method consists of mixing stem cells from a healthy donor cornea with a gel derived from seaweed and collagen. The result is a “bio-ink” solution that is printable. The solution keeps the stem cells alive during the printing process, and allows the material to hold its shape while maintaining the malleability to squeeze through the nozzle of the printer. The 3D-printed corneas will have to pass further testing, but this technique could be common practice within five years.