Additive manufacturing could help prevent corneal blindness in the future, and this is not the first example of AM revolutionising the medical industry.
Scientists at the University of Newcastle have devised a 3D printed version of the human part, meaning the process could be used in the future to ensure there is no shortage of corneas.
As the clear outer layer of the human eye, the cornea has a crucial role in focusing vision. Yet, according to the NHS there is a significant shortage of corneas available and eligible for transplant.
10 million people worldwide require surgery to prevent corneal blindness as a result of diseases such as trachoma – an infectious eye disorder. In addition to this, almost five million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring, according to the university.
Bio-ink could be vital to 3D printed corneas
Research undertaken showed how stem cells (human corneal stromal cells) from a healthy donor’s cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a bio-ink that could be printed.
Using a 3D bio-printer, the bio-ink was successfully released in concentric circles to form the shape of a human cornea, this process reportedly taking less than 10 minutes to print.
The team also reportedly showed that they could build a 3D printed cornea, which matched a patient’s unique specifications. By scanning a patient’s eye, the team were able to rapidly print a cornea using data to match the cornea’s size and shape.
This innovation shows how serious medical problems can simply be eliminated using AM techniques; the efficiency of this potential process could completely remove cornea shortage issues. Factoring in the ability to match a patients exact specifications means that the issues surrounding this could be entirely, and easily eradicated.
Why the medical industry?
AM is often utilised when small parts or highly detailed components need to be produced.
The human body is an extremely complex system, therefore the medical industry can benefit hugely from using additive manufacturing processes.
Every person is unique and has specifications which might need to be adapted to. The resources used for surgeries or to treat patients are often customised, expensive and limited.
Those resource constraints could be more easily overcome with the use of 3D printed technology, which can produce components that are fully customised.
Additive manufacturing to transform orthopedic implants
This is not the first example where additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionise the medical industry.
Each year, the NHS uses and replaces hundreds of thousands of hip, knee and spinal implants, with the average life of these implants just 15 years.
AM metal implants could last longer than regular implants, be more durable and potentially save the medical industry money it so desperately needs.
The Manufacturer sat down with Chris Sutcliffe, Professor at the University of Liverpool, to talk about his 20-year career in the additive manufacturing of orthopedic implants and just how “additive manufacturing will revolutionise the whole orthopedic implant industry”, as he says.
Sutcliffe, who also works as an R&D director for Renishaw, explained his research work with US implant giant Stryker Orthopaedics.
He explained that the implants developed are made with a 3D porous surface, which – to the human eye – resembles the structure of bone, adding: “Our implants don’t need screws or adhesives and both the initial fixation straight after implantation and the long term stability are fantastic.”
“All 3D printing relies on the simplification of a 3D problem to a 2D one, this simplification is the key to creating really complex 3D structures by decomposing the single 3D problem to a sequence of 2D ones.”