Scientists print eye cells for the first time

18 December 2013

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

Scientists have successfully printed eye cells using a 3D printer, in a development which could be used to treat sight loss.

The printer was used to create two types of cell from the eyes of adult rats - ganglion and glial cells. These form part of the retina, where information is converted into nerve impulses that travel to the brain. Damage to the retina can lead to loss of vision.

It is the first time that cells from the central nervous system have been printed.

There was some uncertainty as to whether the cells would survive the printing process, during which they are fired out of a nozzle at high speed onto a surface. But cells created using the technique survived and were able to grow in culture. It is hoped that they will be used in artificial tissue grafts.

Co-authors of the study Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge said: "Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using a piezoelectric inkjet printer. Although our results are preliminary and much more work is still required, the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future."

An electric pulse was applied to the printer to stimulate the production of the cells and high speed video technology was used to record the process.

Two layers of the retina were created and the team now intends to build up multiple layers to create a full retina.

3D printing has recently become a promising area of development in the biomedical sciences to create new structures for regenerative medicine.

The study forms part of a range of new technologies being explored as treatments for blindness. Scientists have been able to reverse blindness in mice using stem cells. Electronic retina implants are also being developed.

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