A New Zealand designed that can fix human eyes with fish scales, using 3D printers, could provide a cure for blindness for millions.
A Massey University team in New Zealand have successfully made a printer that turns out new cornea designed for humans.
Associate professor Johan Potgieter leads the development team, and said the printer builds the cornea from collagen, one of the main structural proteins our skin is made from. But the collagen will be sourced from the scales of hoki fish, which has been shown to be accepted by the human body.
“Worldwide 10 million people need cornea transplants. If you lose your cornea, you’d be blind, and the only way you can get one is a donor cornea.”
“If we can have a way we can make this for a world market, as cheaply as possible, that’s the dream. It should be extremely cheap, it’s a renewable resource, and the machines should be very affordable.”
The team are now working out how to take their prototype design out of the lab, to use it for mass production, and have a grant of almost $1 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Options include selling the machines to clinics, or selling the cornea themselves, from New Zealand.
The fish scales are a waste product, and Potgieter said they had begun talks with iwi fisheries interests to find a partnership that will provide the raw material.
3D printing of human tissue has been done by various teams around the world, to create simple body structures, like bladders and skin, Potgieter said. But this is the first time anyone has produced a cornea.
“This is a very unique technology, there’s been attempts to grow cornea, but we’ll be able to mass produce them and make hundreds a day.”
The printers are similar to domestic 3D printers currently available, he said.
“It’s like a Ferrari, compared to the Beetle, the principals are the same – you squish out material, whether it’s plastic or collagen.
“But you’ve got different levels of hygiene and control, but it’s the same basic processing.”
It is hoped the mass production process could be ready for testing at the end of next year.