Blindness to be treated with printers

By | Health & Wellness
A healthy retina of the human eye. New technology hopes to be able yto fabricate ganglion and glial cells to help reverse blindness. Credit image@ Richard Masoner, flickr.com

New research hopes to shed light on the possibility of producing new eye cells to help reverse sight loss, with ground breaking techniques that has yielded successful results for the first time in the field.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have been able to successfully print new eye cells, publishing their results in this month’s edition of the journal Biofabrication. These experts, working at number of facilities throughout the university including the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, the Eye Department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital as well as the biomedical and engineering departments of the university.

The researchers were looking into the use of inkjet printers to help fabricate certain types of eye cells- retinal ganglion cells and glial cells. Inkjet printing has been used previously in a number of different aspects of regenerative medicine, capable of creating mammalian muscle and stem cells for example, explained the paper.

However according to the authors, creating cells from the central nervous system (CNS) had yet to be accomplished using this technology, potentially making it the first of its kind.

Retinal ganglion cells are a type of neuron that resides in the inner surface of your retina, receiving visual information via photoreceptors, cells that translate light energy to stimulate a biological response in the body. With around 1.2 to 1.5 million cells in the inner retinal surface, the retinal ganglion cells transmit the visual information to various centres of the brain, such as the hypothalamus and midbrain.

The glial cells have more housekeeping functions, helping hold neurones in place whilst providing nutrients and oxygen and protecting them from pathogens.

The reduction of these cells is symptomatic of several conditions that result in blindness, however in order to regain sight the fabricated cells must be in a specific order and pattern, said Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, of the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair and co-authors of the paper, making printing an ideal method.

The researchers tested this technology on rats, publishing results to prove that this technology could be viable for human use in the future.

Cell cultures of the two types of eye cells mentioned above were derived from adult male rats, which were subsequently separated from their culture medium, with half going into the printers and the other half serving as a control.

Importantly, the researcher’s demonstrated that the cell’s viability was unaltered during the printing process, neither before or after cell ejection from the printing nozzle, as was their phenotype, or observable characteristics. The later is important as it means that they can respond to cues in their environment, such as the retinal ganglion cells responding to growth factors produced by the glial cells.

Clara Eaglen, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, was quoted by the BBC regarding this novel methodology, saying “Clearly it’s still at a very early stage and further research is needed to develop this technology for use in repairing the retina in humans.”

Nevertheless, the results have shown just how promising inkjet printing can be to help regenerate cells in the retina.

The next step in their research would be to assess whether photoreceptors could be successfully printed using this technique, which the researchers say would be the final key in producing a fully functional retina, essentially curing blindness.

How would you like to see this printing technology used in the future?

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