Researchers have spent decades exploring methods to 3D print organs for transplant but progress is slow due to the complex structure of, say, a kidney or pancreas. Precise Bio, a startup founded by scientists from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, claim that the first real success will come from 3D-printed corneas. They've already conducted animal studies and are building a roadmap toward human trials. From IEEE Spectrum:
Corneas could be the first mainstream application of bioprinting, (Precise Bio CEO Aryeh) Batt says, in part because they have a layered structure that's a good match for the technology. Each layer consists of different types of cells and fibers, which the printer could lay down in sequence, and these layers don't contain blood vessels or nerves. What's more, putting a new kind of transplant in the eye is inherently safer than implanting one deep in the body, since physicians could easily check for signs of trouble and could remove the tissue if anything seemed wrong.
There's certainly a need for more corneas in the world, says Kevin Corcoran, president and CEO of the Eye Bank Association of America. In 2017, his members supplied nearly 51,000 transplantable corneas to patients in the United States, and also sent more than 26,000 abroad. Internationally, "there is a tremendous amount of unmet demand," he says. "It's estimated that 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness globally, primarily because they lack access to effective and affordable treatment."
Part of Precise Bio's proprietary approach is its printer, which uses a technique called laser-induced forward transfer to propel droplets of bioinks onto a surface. Just as a desktop printer has cartridges containing different colors of inks, the Precise Bio printer has cartridges containing different biological materials such as epithelial cells and collagen.