NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UK (CBS Local) – Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have successfully created the first ever 3D-printed cornea, giving millions at risk of going blind new hope.

British scientists combined human stem cells with a mixture of alginate and collagen to produce a “bio-ink” that can be used by a 3D printer. The durable yet flexible combination can reportedly be turned into the outer lens of the eye, which light passes through on its way to the retina in less than 10 minutes.

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“Our unique gel… keeps the stem cells alive whilst producing a material which is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be squeezed out the nozzle of a 3D printer,” Prof. Che Connon said in a university release.

“Now we have a ready to use bio-ink containing stem cells allowing users to start printing tissues without having to worry about growing the cells separately.”

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The researchers say that their new creation may help over 15 million people who have gone blind or are at risk of losing their vision because of diseases, eye disorders or injuries. Prof. Connon noted that there is a shortage of human corneas available for transplant around the world. He believes that bio-ink could solve the problem in the future.

“What we have shown is that it is feasible to print corneas using coordinates taken from a patient eye and that this approach has potential to combat the world-wide shortage.”

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Newcastle University says the 3D corneas will have to be tested before they are cleared for use in human transplants. This is a process that could take “several years.”