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Jul 5, 2018,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Health: Scientists recreate a human cornea using a 3D printer

British researchers have recently created artificial human corneas using a 3D printer. This world-first exploit paves the way for using this technology for more and more complex operations. However, we will have to wait a few more years until these corneas can be transplanted into humans. 


Researchers at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (United Kingdom) have recently achieved a scientific feat: creating human corneas using 3D printing technology. This world first, described in detail in a study published in Experimental Eye Research, represents a new potential use of printers in the field of medicine. Members, organs and tissues had previously been created using this method.  


Defying the limits of medical 3D printing 


The cornea requires an extremely high level of precision, reports website ObjetConnecté, hence why these British specialists have pushed the boundaries of 3D printing even further than before. They have also paved the way for new ways of using this technique in the healthcare sector, where it represents an estimated market of 490 million dollars (around 420 million euros). 

To achieve their goal, the researchers in Newcastle developed a material that could be used as a “bio-ink”. This substance was a gel made up of alginate and collagen, to which the scientists added stem cells harvested from a healthy subject. 


A supple yet resistant material


This process was particularly complex. The substance had to allow them to keep 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,” explained Che Connon, the leader of the study.

Once this hurdle had been overcome, the specialists managed to create artificial corneas in less than ten minutes. They are suitable for almost all patients, as the procedure means that the size and shape of the finished product can be altered.


The stem cells stay alive after printing


The procedure seems to be reliable, reports Futura Santé. A day after the corneas were printed, 90% of the cells were still alive. And one week after they were created, the number had dropped to 83%. We have not yet seen these artificial corneas transplanted onto a patient, as they need to undergo several years of further testing. In France alone, 8,000 corneal transplants are required every year.


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