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Scientists Announce Breakthrough in Artificial Corneas

January 24, 2019

Scientific and medical advancements are constantly bringing new treatments and hope to those suffering from debilitating and potentially deadly disease and condition. As a result, many diseases are now treatable due to the hard work and dedication of these scientists and researchers.  

Unfortunately, advancements made in the field of vision and eye diseases often isn’t as publicized as some other medical developments. However, these advancements have the ability to change the lives of millions around the world.  

Dr. Silverman and the team at OCLI want to highlight one such advancement that could bring vision to people around the world: the development of artificial corneas. 

Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom discovered a way to make 3D printed artificial corneas that, once perfected, will allow doctors around the world to bring vision to those blinded by cataracts or other eye conditions that result from cornea damage. 

Currently, the only option for someone who needs a cornea transplant is to receive one from a human donor. This strictly limits the number of corneas that are available for surgery and with over ten million people around the world in need of corneal transplants, the supply is significantly less than the demand. 

“There is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant, with 10 million people worldwide requiring surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma, an infectious eye disorder,” TechCrunch quoted the researchers reporting. “In addition, almost 5 million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease.” 

The technique that has been developed by the Newcastle team take “human corneal stromal cells” from a donor cornea. They mix those cells with alginate and collagen. The solution is called a “bio-ink” that is then used for the 3D printing of a living cornea. 

The process allows multiple printed corneas to be created from a single donor cornea, significantly increasing the supply for transplant. The researchers estimate that it might be possible to get as many as 50 3D printed corneas from a single donated cornea. 

The lenses will be created using computer modeling of volunteer eyes. The end result of the printed corneas appears very similar to a contact lens.  

The corneas will also take a significantly reduced amount of time to produce when compared to previous efforts to develop an artificial cornea. The scientists at Newcastle say that a cornea can be printed in just ten minutes even on the lower-end models of 3D printers. This could increase the reach of the technology into third world nations where high-tech printers and hardware are hard to obtain. 

The research also found that the corneas can be kept alive and viable for weeks without refrigeration in a hydrogel. 

“This builds upon our previous work in which we kept cells alive for weeks at room temperature within a similar hydrogel. Now we have a ready to use bio-ink containing stem cells allowing users to start printing tissues without having to worry about growing the cells separately,” said researcher Che Connon. Connon is one of the lead scientists in the project, working with Dr. Steve Swioklo. 

While the study is showing extremely positive results, the researchers say that it will be a few more years before the corneas can be used in actual transplants. Still, they believe that the current path in front of them will lead to tens of millions around the world being able to regain their sight. 

Dr. Silverman and the team at OCLI are always striving to stay on the cutting edge of technology and medical advancement in eye care. When you make an appointment with the team at OCLI, you can rest assured that you are dealing with professionals who can find you the absolute best treatment for your eyes. Contact the OCLI team today!

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