The world’s need for donor organs and tissues far exceeds our supply — but that might not be the case for long.
Researchers across the globe are exploring way to 3D print everything from hearts to lungs. These artificial organs have thus far remained relegated to labs, but one startup claims it’s almost ready for human trials of what could prove to be the first 3D-printed body part to go mainstream: the cornea.
The cornea is a thin piece of transparent tissue on the front of the eye that resembles a soft contact lens and is vulnerable to disease and injury.
In October, North Carolina-based bioprinting startup Precise Bio announced plans to advance its research into bioprinted corneas. The company had already earned the distinction of being the first to transplant a 3D-printed cornea graft into an animal, and CEO Aryeh Batt claimed in the press release that this put it in a prime position to do the same for humans.
In a story published Wednesday in IEEE Spectrum, Batt elaborated on the company’s cornea focus. “We plan to put our printers in eye banks,” he told the magazine. “Physicians can use tissues that are printed, not taken from donors.”
According to the IEEE Spectrum report, Precise Bio is now focused on getting the regulatory green light to conduct the first-in-human trials of its bioprinted corneas. If those go well, corneas could become the first 3D-printed body part to go mainstream — and the impact could be huge.
“It’s estimated that 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness globally, primarily because they lack access to effective and affordable treatment,” Kevin Corcoran, president and CEO of the Eye Bank Association of America, told IEEE Spectrum.
One day in the not-so-distant future, those people might regain their gift of sight, all because their doctors could simply construct a new cornea for them on one of Precise Bio’s printers.
READ MORE: Corneas Could Be the First Mainstream Application of Bioprinting [IEEE Spectrum]
More on artificial corneas: Millions of People Need New Corneas. Now We Can 3D Print Them