Scientists say they have been able to successfully print new eye cells that could be used to treat sight loss. The proof-of-principle work in the journal Biofabrication was carried out using animal cells.
The Cambridge University team says it paves the way for grow-your-own therapies for people with damage to the light-sensitive layer of tissue at back of the eye - the retina. More tests are needed before human trials can begin.
Co-authors of the study Prof Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge, said: "The loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases. The retina is an exquisitely organised structure where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function.
"Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using a piezoelectric inkjet printer. Although our results are preliminary and much more work is still required, the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future."
They now plan to attempt to print other types of retinal cells, including the light-sensitive photoreceptors - rods and cones.
Scientists have already been able to reverse blindness in mice using stem cell transplants. And there is promising work into electronic retina implants implants in patients.
Clara Eaglen, of the RNIB, said: "This is a step in the right direction as the retina is often affected in many of the common eye conditions, causing loss of central vision which stops people watching TV and seeing the faces of loved ones."
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Samuel H. Kenyon, trendspotter