Researchers from the UK’s University of Cambridge have successfully 3D printed eye cells that have grown normally and can be kept healthy. It is hoped that this research will lead to a treatment for blindness in humans.
The research team have shown a proof of concept, published in the journal Biofabrication, using an inkjet printer to print two types of retinal cells, ganglion and glial cells, from a rat’s eye. Ganglion cells transmit information from the eye to certain parts of the brain, while glial cells provide support and protection for neurons.
Prof Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge, discovered that these cells not only remained healthy but they retained their ability to survive and grow in culture.
“The loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases. The retina is an exquisitely organised structure where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function.”, said Prof Martin and Dr Lorber.
Their inkjet printer process uses a piezoelectric print head which utilizes electrically-charged crystals to deposit materials directly on substrates, shown in action in the images below.
Their study has shown for the first time that a piezoelectric inkjet printer cells can be used to 3D print cells derived from the mature central nervous system of the eye.
3D printing makes it possible to precisely place the cells into the highly defined patterns and structures which are required in regenerative medicine of this type.
“The ability to arrange cells into highly defined patterns and structures has recently elevated the use of 3D printing in the biomedical sciences to create cell-based structures for use in regenerative medicine,” the researchers said.
The scientists plan to expand their research to try and print other types of retinal cells, such as rods and cones which handle vision in low light and changes in shape, plus detail and color.