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Kiwi scientists 3D print corneas from fish scales

08/11/2017By Matthew Woodley
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A university team from across the Tasman has designed a 3D bioprinting machine that will potentially be able to mass-produce human corneas from fish scales.

The developers, lead by Associate Professor Johan Potgieter, have already created a successful prototype device, and are now developing the best method of larger production. Current options are providing the machines to clinics, or even selling the corneas themselves.

Potgeier told New Zealand news site stuff.co.nz that the printer builds the cornea from collagen and the current plan is to source it from the unused scales of hoki fish as tests have already shown it can 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,” Potgeier said.

“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.”

While other researchers around the world have been able to 3D print other forms of human tissue, Potgeier said it was the first time anyone had 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,” he said.

“It’s like a Ferrari, compared to the Beetle, the principles are the same – you squish out material, whether it’s plastic or collagen. You’ve got different levels of hygiene and control, but it’s the same basic processing.”

The team, which is based at Massey University in Palmerston, hope the mass production process will be ready for testing at the end of 2018.

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