The University of Antwerp (UA) and the Catholic University Leuven (KUL) are developing a technique for 3D printing corneas, the transparant tissue at the front of the eye. This research strengthens the pioneering role of Flanders in 3D printing human tissues.
This five year research program was announced in the middle of last year in the general press (e.g., De Tijd / l’Echo, Het Nieuwsblad). In this program the UA is responsible for the design of the cornea, while the KUL is responsible for the 3D printing technology.
Collagen, the basic building blocks of any human tissue, is used as basis of the 3D printed cornea. The challenge in a later phase will be to incorporate other cells so that it becomes possible to implant the 3D printed corneas and that these 3D printed corneas do not degenerate. Another challenge will be to improve the bio-ink so that it can withstand the huge pressures while being pushed through the tiny 3D printing nozzle.
Once this technology has become stable and reliable, future will prove whether this technology is helpful for aniridia patients. Given that these patients often experience cornea problems later in life, it is at least an interesting evolution worth monitoring.
During the Aniridia Belgium meeting last summer, Dr. Matthyssen also briefly presented her PhD research related to this topic: the presentation is still available online.