Connon says he wants to fine-tune the printing process first and the artificial cornea will also need to go through safety studies in animals. To this hydrogel mixture, the researchers added human corneal stromal cells (stem cells) taken from a healthy donor cornea.
"We are delighted at the success of researchers at Newcastle University in developing 3D printing of corneas using human tissue", said Dr. Neil Ebenezer, director of research, policy and innovation at Fight for Sight.
Once the bioink was successfully 3D printed in the shape of a cornea, the research shows that the stem cells were able to grow, or culture, around this scaffolding.
Having lost my own vision while at university, I know all too well how debilitating poor eyesight can be, so being able to "regrow" fundamental parts of the eye could be a gamechanger.
Millions of patients around the world need surgery to prevent corneal blindness caused by eye disorders.
And while Connon and his colleagues continue to ideal a sight-restoring piece of technology, United Kingdom residents are still encouraged to donate corneal tissue to help with the shortage in the area, Ebenezer said.
Finding the precise recipe for an ink that's stiff enough to maintain its shape and flexible to be squeezed through nozzle was tricky, Connon said. Human corneas are now in short supply.
The project, which was described in Experimental Eye Research, holds potential for addressing the worldwide shortage in human donor corneas.
3D-printed food offers new possibilities such as intricate designs, automated cooking, mass manufacturing, and personalised meals. Connon adds that they are not alone in their research, with many teams now engaged in creating bio-inks for creating 3D printed corneas. However one day these artificial corneas might help people see. Notably, it is also the first time that researchers have recreated the cornea's typical curved shape. The university included that this method could handle a critical lack of corneas accessible to transplant and may profit a great many individuals overall requiring the corneal medical procedure to avert blindness.
According to the paper, which was published online today (May 30) in the journal Experimental Eye Research, and will appear in the August 2018 issue, the 3D-printed corneas are not yet ready to implant in people.
However, the study's authors said it will likely take years for patients to actually start receiving 3D-printed corneas.