The Instituto de Investigación Biomédica del Hospital La Paz (IdiPAZ) in Madrid, Spain, is working toward the goal of 3D printing human corneas within the next 5 years.
Contributing to a global shortage of donations, the synthetic eye tissues could be used to treat, and in some cases reverse, the onset of blindness caused by common eye diseases.
A project of notable significance, the research is backed by the IDEA² Global Linq initiative from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Curing a leading cause of vision loss
Research into corneal stroma fabrication is lead by María Paz de Miguel of the Cell Engineering Group at La Paz University Hospital.
Joining her on the corneal project is an interdisciplinary group of researchers across Spain’s leading medical institutions.
Included in the group is Francisco Arnalich-Montiel, an expert in keratoconus disease (the most common cause for corneal transplants), and resident at the Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal.
Not “a culture of corneas”
As part of the IDEA² Global initiative, IdiPAZ researchers receive mentoring and expert connections from specialists at MIT. de Miguel et al.’s involvement in the project for biomedical innovation was determined by the Foundation for Innovation and Prospective Health in Spain (Fipse).
Speaking to Spanish publish radio and television service RTVE Fipse representatives stipulate that “It’s a manufacture, not a culture of corneas,” differentiating the technique from other 3D bioprinting research that seeks to use a material as support for cells.
In order to achieve their goal the researchers propose a direct 3D printing method using native, autologous, stem cells to synthesize layers of collagen for transplant. The technique will likely require the development of a high-resolution 3D bioprinting process, that layers tissue cell by cell.
A 5 year ambition
Within the 5-year time frame the IdiPAZ team plans to be able to produce patient-specific corneas within a week. Though ambitious, previous studies such as successful stem cell treatment of mice corneas at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, indicates that the project is entirely possible.
If successful the treatments could benefit the lives of around 10 million people with eye disease worldwide.
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Featured image: diagram of the human eye via Wikimedia Commons contributor Firkin