A made-in-India 3D printed product from an Indian clinician-scientist team that could offer an affordable solution to corneal blindness.
By Oliver Johnson, tctmagazine.com
Researchers from L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), Hyderabad, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH) and the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, have collaborated to develop a 3D printed cornea from the human donor corneal tissue.
The cornea is the clear front layer of the eye that helps focus light and aids in clear vision. Corneal damage is one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide, with over 1.5 million new cases reported annually.
The 3D printed cornea has been developed indigenously through government and philanthropic funding. It is natural and contains no synthetic components, is free of animal residues and is safe to use in patients.
“This can be a ground-breaking and disruptive innovation in treating diseases like corneal scarring (where the cornea becomes opaque) or Keratoconus (where the cornea gradually becomes thin with time),” said Dr Sayan Basu and Dr Vivek Singh, lead researchers from L V Prasad Eye Institute.
They continued: “It is a made-in-India product by an Indian clinician-scientist team and the first 3D printed human cornea that is optically and physically suitable for transplantation. The bio-ink used to make this 3D printed cornea can be sight saving for army personnel at the site of injury to seal the corneal perforation and prevent infection during war-related injuries or in a remote area with no tertiary eye care facility.”
Corneal transplantation is the current standard of care for cases with severe disease and vision loss. However, there is a gap between the supply and the demand for donor corneal tissue worldwide.
The problem is complicated by the lack of eye-banking networks, with less than 5 percent of new cases every year being treated by corneal transplantation due to donor tissue shortage. The recent development from the researchers at LVPEI, IITH and CCMB included decellularized corneal tissue matrix and stem cells derived from the human eye to develop a unique biometric hydrogel (patent pending) used as background material for the cornea.
As the 3D printed cornea is composed of materials from human corneal tissue, it is biocompatible, natural, and free of animal residues. Since the tissue used for this technology comes from donor corneas that do not meet the optical standards for transplantation, this method find use for donated corneas that would otherwise be discarded.
Corneal substitutes are being actively researched around the world, but a lot are either animal-based or synthetic. Pig or other animal-based products cannot be used in India because of issues related to social and religious acceptability.
The 3D printed corneas are not only safer, according to the researchers, but also more affordable for patients with the disease in India. Each donor cornea can aid in the preparation of three 3D printed corneas.
The cornea can be printed in various diameters from 3mm to 13mm. Potentially offering a solution to the shortage of donor corneas for transplantation has significance for clinicians. Further testing is required before the product can be used in patients, something that may still be several years away.
“We used a biomimicking approach to provide an optimised microenvironment for stromal regeneration while maintaining the curvature and thickness of the bioprinted corneal graft,” says Dr Falguni Pati, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, IIT Hyderabad.
The research was funded by a grant from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. The translational work leading up to clinical trials in patients will be funded through a grant from Sree Padmavathi Venkateswara Foundation, Vijayawada.
In 2018, TCT spoke to Che Connor, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University about the 3D printing of human corneas, and the impact that the research can have.
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