The first human corneas to come out of a low-cost 3D printer were created by a team of researchers at Newcastle University in the UK.
The incredibly bizarre achievement was revealed to the word in the science journal Experimental Eye Research.
Che Connon, professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle University, praised the medical breakthrough for utilising cheap materials in the process.
Professor Connon said: “Many teams across the world have been chasing the ideal bio-ink to make this process feasible.
“Our unique gel – a combination of alginate and collagen – keeps 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 3-D printer.
“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.”
The corneas is a crucial element in the outer layers of the eye used to focus vision and it is estimated some five million people suffer blindness due to cornea related wounds and diseases.
A total of 10 million people worldwide require surgery to prevent corneal blindness but there is widespread lack of corneas ready for transplants.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIBP) estimates more than two million people, or one in 30, in the UK live with sight loss.
Corneal dystrophies are one of the most common cornea ailment, caused by inflammation, infection or other eye disease.
The RNIBP said: “The surface of the cornea is very sensitive. It contains many nerve endings and can detect even the smallest piece of dirt or fluff.
“The cornea acts as a barrier between your eye and the outside world, helping to protect it from injury and infection.
“Your cornea is important for sight. It bends and focuses light into the eye.
“Light is then further focused by the eye’s lens onto the retina, at the back of the eye.”
Scientists have now developed a solution in the form of so-called bio-ink – a liquid mix of stem cells, collagen and alginate acid.
With a simple 3D printer the Newcastle scientists were able to print an artificial human cornea in less than 10 minutes.
The cornea printing method could in turn create an unlimited supply of corneas ready for transplanting.
By scanning a patient’s eye, the doctors could further print bespoke corneas to match the patient’s eye shape and size.
Professor Connon said: “Our 3-D printed corneas will now have to undergo further testing and it will be several years before we could be in the position where we are using them for transplants.
“However, what we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the world-wide shortage.”
The incredible news follows reports scientists in the US have successfully combined stem cell clusters with chicken embryos to uncover how fetuses develop in the womb.