Researchers have actually printed viable retina cells using an inkjet printer.
The ability to print up new, living versions of the damaged parts of your body is becoming more viable as a medical procedure, and cuts and scrapes aren’t the only maladies that medical 3D printing can help cure. Living, 3D printed retina cells could someday aid in curing many kinds of blindness.
At the University of Cambridge, researchers have pulled off something of a 3D printing coup. Using lab rats, they’ve printed living central nervous system cells for the very first time. Led by professor Keith Martin, the team actually printed viable retina cells, using an inkjet printer, of all things.
The printer was able to first print a layer of retinal ganglion cells and then a layer of glial cells on top of them, all while keeping the tiny structures vital. In doing so, the Cambridge research team was able to prove that eyes and their internal structures can someday be 3D-printed for surgical purposes. According to Martin, even a rapid printing process didn’t hamper the research team’s results:
“Effectively you can fire these cells at about 30 miles per hour and they survive that perfectly well, [which] was a real surprise to us because we didn’t expect the cells to be able to survive being fired out of a cannon.”
Human trials are still a while off, but eventually professor Martin and his team believe that their process will be capable of 3D printing retinal grafts tailored for individual patients. Cells used in this sort of medical 3D printing will be grown to perfectly match those of the patient prior to surgery. The process could also lead to other neural repair surgeries, possibly even including damaged nerve cells and spinal chord injuries.