A small team of researchers from the Florida A&M University (FAMU) College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences (COPPS) is eyeing a future in which human corneas can be 3D printed with ease. Recently, the team accomplished a first in the United States by 3D printing a cornea using a high performance machine.
If “3D printed corneas” sounds somewhat familiar, it is likely because a team of researchers from Newcastle, England developed a platform for printing the eye component last year—an achievement that even made it into the mainstream news.
Now, the FAMU researchers, led by professor Mandip Sachdeva, PhD, are helping to advance the cornea 3D printing technology to make it more efficient. One of the key ways in which the technology is being improved is through the creation of a mold to enable the printing of multiple corneas.
According to the FAMU team—which also includes Shallu Kutlehria, a doctoral student from India, and Paul Dinh, a biology major from Tallahassee—the process has been simplified so that the diameter and dimensions of a cornea can be entered into the 3D printer, which can then print six corneas using a material embedded with human cells in about 10 minutes.
Professor Sachdeva added: “From there, we can set up an assembly of 3D printed corneas in a diffusion cell system and then test a lot of formulations or products at the same time and evaluate the data thus minimizing animal testing.
The 3D printed corneas can then be placed onto an artificial blinking eye—also 3D printed—so that products can be tested in a simulated atmosphere. This ability could help to drastically reduce the need for animal testing for products and treatments for eye problems.
At this stage, the researchers have successfully 3D printed corneas and are advancing towards inserting the bioprinted component into the eye model. In fact, the team says it is now just weeks away from this stage in the project. The 3D printed eyeball model has been in development for the past year and a half.
One of the goals of the FAMU research project is to make the 3D printing cornea process as simple as possible, so that producing a number of corneas can become a regular occurrence, taking only a few minutes. The group also hopes to begin filing patents for the technology.
“I can go and travel and see all these beautiful things and then there’s people out there that can’t really see at all,” Dinh concluded. “It really made me appreciate the work that I was doing and that it had meaning to it and maybe my work can help someone in the future.”