Pharmaceutics Professor Mandip Sachdeva from the Florida A&M University (FAMU) has led a research project to 3D print a cornea in what is reportedly the first example of high throughput printing of human cells, particularly in America.
The project was undertaken in two research laboratories in the Dyson Pharmacy Building on the FAMU campus using the Cellink Bio X bio printer. Sachdeva, research assistant Paul Dinh, and Shallu Kutlehria, a graduate assistant in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will be submitting a white paper detailing the project later this month for journal publication. Potentially, the results of the project could lead to advancements in the medical field for applications related to the cornea, like transplants and treatments.
Sachdeva tells Speaking to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sachdeva explained the significance of this breakthrough: “High throughput cornea printing means that we can print multiple corneas in a matter of minutes using a specially designed scaffold by our laboratory.”
“This will save time, and hence, will increase efficiency.”
Towards 3D printed corneal transplants
Sachdeva has been teaching at FAMU for 26 years, and in his time has been awarded $25 million in research funding. The most recent research for 3D bioprinted corneas follows a 2017 grant from the National Science Foundation. Alongside two FAMU-FSU College of Engineering professors, Sachdeva was awarded the grant to research applications for bioprinting, aerospace materials and energy. After initially focusing on materials/devices for biological applications, this research led to ocular research and the 3D printing of corneas.
The project began around the beginning of 2018, and centered on replicating the collagen matrix of real cornea with 3D printing by using stromal cells or keratocytes. These cells help develop and maintain normal corneal structure and transparency, as well as helping to repair tissue after injury.
“The starting point was, we have to have print the cornea,” Sachdeva added. “A lot of things went into it. When you print the cornea, the bio-ink is very important. You have to formulate a bio-ink to use for the cornea that simulates the human characteristics.”
Potential applications for the tissues include cornea transplants, a long-term goal of the project, and creating an in-vitro model for research and drug screening drug. Currently, the team is developing a prototype of a blinking eye model utilizing the 3D printed cornea, which is an upgrade of a basic in-vitro model.
The first 3D printed cornea
As the potential impact of artificial ocular tissues is realized several efforts in 3D bioprinted corneas have emerged in recent years. Since 2017 the Instituto de Investigación Biomédica del Hospital La Paz (IdiPAZ) in Madrid, Spain, has been working toward the goal of 3D printing viable human corneas by the year 2020.
Pandorum Technologies Pvt., a Bangalore-based biotechnology company, has also used 3D bioprinted cornea tissue to promote the scarless healing of wounds in the eye.
In 2018, scientists at Newcastle University (NCL) successfully 3D printed human corneas for the first time. Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, and his research team created a printable bioink solution from donor stem cells, alginate, and collagen. This was used to successfully 3D print a cornea in under ten minutes. Sachdeva explains the difference between the research project at FAMU to the NCL study, however, “They printed one cornea. [Dinh] said it takes so much time, if you want to print six corneas, or 12 corneas, how do we do that?”
“My team developed a high throughput printing system where in about 10 minutes, you can print about six corneas.”
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Featured image shows Florida A&M University biology student Paul Dinh holding a 3D printed cornea on the tip of his finger. Photo via Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat.