Researchers at Newcastle University are 3D printing corneas utilizing stem cells. The process involves mixing stem cells in a bio-gel which is derived from seaweed and collagen that allows these stem cells to be cultured and printed easily and efficiently into fully functioning corneas. The cornea plays an important role in focusing light that enters the eye. Technically, blindness caused by corneal damage is easily reversible with a corneal transplant. However, there is a vast shortage of donor corneas due to general organ and tissue donation shortages. In addition, there is also a significant risk of rejection - as is the case with any donated tissue.
Dr. Nadia Zakaria at the University of Antwerp’s Center for Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine has been working on a 3D printing method to create fully functioning human corneas using autologous mesenchymal stem cells [MSCs]. Patients require corneal transplants if the cornea is damaged due to severe infection, injury, or clouding due to genetic disorders such as Fuchs Dystrophy. Current corneal transplants come from donors, but the number of available transplants is scarce. Therefore, patients receiving the transplant likely do not receive one that matches their exact eye shape and curvature, further exacerbating the risk of rejection of transplanted tissue. Dr. Zakaria is utilizing a collagen scaffold to grow layers of the cornea using mesenchymal stem cells [the same type of stem cells found in teeth], and the main goal is to achieve the exact clarity and thickness of a fully-fledged human cornea.