3D printing seems to be a solution for just about anything: new homes, new footwear, even dinner? Yep! But perhaps the most exciting way that 3D printing can be used is in the field of medical science. Specifically, printing new body parts for those in need.
It's an idea that is a lot closer to being reality than you might think. Case in point: a project at Newcastle University in England has been the first to 3D-print human corneas.
Eye spy a problem...
The cornea is the outer layer of the eye. It protects the iris and pupil inside, and is an important part of how we focus our vision. And whether through an infectious eye disorder called Trachoma or an eye injury, a damaged cornea can cause constant pain and impaired vision.
The global waiting list for new corneas sits at around 15 million people ... and sadly, only about 1 in 70 will ever get one. If only there was a solution!
Have you got six minutes?
Eye spy a solution!
That's how long—or really, how short—a time it takes for the scientists at Newcastle to print a new cornea. (We'd say that's blindingly fast, but, you know ...) So how do they do it? After all, one of the key issues in any transplant is getting the body to accept the new "visitor." Our immune systems are hard wired to reject and attack foreign invaders.
So, what's the password, 3D-printed corneas?
Uh, is it "stem cells and bio-ink?"
To be clear, these scientists haven't yet done a successful transplant. This project is just proof that the living tissue could actually be printed. But by using living cornea stem sells and something called bio-ink (made of alginate and collagen), the scientists appear to have perfected an amazing feat. As the printer draws tiny circles moving slowly outward, the stem cells grow together and bind with the bio-ink. Presto, your new cornea is ready!
Now we've seen everything!
(Watch the entire process below...)