3D Printing Cornea Tissue to Combat Blindness

Pandorum Technologies, an Indian bioprinting startup, has recently used 3D printed cornea tissue to facilitate the healing of wounds in the eye. Using a novel hydrogel, the company’s bioprinted tissue promotes scarless healing of wounds in the cornea through a regenerative process.

Corneal opacities were estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to account for 7 percent of all blindness in 2010, making the condition among the most common causes of blindness. Additionally, 20 percent of all childhood blindness is estimated to be caused by corneal defects. With 12 million people waiting for corneal transplants worldwide, emphasis has been put on 3D printing as an alternative source of replacement corneas.

“In India alone, there are over a million people suffering from a bilateral loss of vision due to corneal disorders, and at least a few folds more from unilateral corneal blindness,” said Dr. Tuhin Bhowmick, Ph.D., and co-founder of Pandorum. We are working to close this gap using a bio-engineering approach through stage-wise development of a platform, which is ultimately aimed to liberate us from the dependencies on human donor cornea.”

Pandorum’s hydrogen leverages specialized stem cells that are used to heal corneal wounds through a minimally invasive technique. This technique can be used to print transparent, suturable tissues that are embedded within corneal cells in therapeutic applications. The Pandorum technique could have implications for treating visual impairments via transplantation.

“Corneal disorders are one of the major causes of blindness worldwide,” continued Dr. Bhowmick. “Though surgically replacing the opaque tissue with a clear corneal allograft is usually effective in improving vision, there is an acute shortage of cadaveric human corneas available for transplantation. Being able to bio-engineer critical tissues such as the human cornea is a significant milestone.”

This procedure is designed to be simple, and minimally invasive to minimize any post-operative medication or care. The company dubs the bioengineered tissue to be the ‘Liquid Cornea’ that is directly applied to heal wounds, and the Corneal lenticule for human implantation that is printed and implanted into the eye.

Pandorum announced their 3D printed cornea tissue study at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting held in Vancouver, Canada, last April. ARVO was founded in 1928, and with almost 12,000 researchers and clinicians from over 75 different countries, it is the largest optic research organization in the world. Though the work is still being developed in animal studies, the Pandorum researchers are preparing to conduct clinical trials in humans in 2020.

This development adds to Pandorum’s list of 3D printing accomplishments, with their previous creation of 3D printed liver tissue.

“Right now, our mini-liver tissue reflects the characteristics of those grown within the human body,” said Pandorum co-founder Arun Chandru in an interview last year. “So pharma companies can test the hepatotoxicity of drugs, or FMCG companies their products, nixing the need for animal trials.”

The company is focused heavily on regenerative medicine, aiming to one day be able to develop cornea and liver tissues for transplants. Pandorum is currently capable of generating tissues with up to 1 million cells, but it is important to note that it may be quite some time before they can generate transplantable tissues consisting of billions of cells.

Source: 3D Print, Pandorum