Corneas have been grown in a British laboratory by scientists using adult stem cells, 3D printers and a carbohydrate found in seaweed.
The breakthrough is the latest to show the promise of adult stem cells, which do not involve the destruction of human embryos.
Researchers at Newcastle University announced their proof-of-concept work this week, explaining how the cornea was ‘printed’ in under ten minutes.
Scientists used human corneal stromal cells from a healthy donor, along with alginate from seaweed, and collagen to create a ‘bio-ink’.
Using a 3D printer, the ink was formed into the shape of a human cornea.
Professor Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, who led the work, said the 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”.
He added: “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.”
Some 10 million people worldwide require surgery to prevent corneal blindness and around 5 million more suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring, the University said.
But Professor Connon emphasised that the breakthrough requires further testing, which could last years.
Earlier this year, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus praised adult stem cells, after undergoing ground-breaking treatment to help him continue playing.
Nicklaus underwent surgery to have stem cells removed from his abdomen and inserted into his lower back.
The 78-year-old said he could not “hit a golf ball without hurting” before surgery but now can stand and play golf pain-free. “That’s a pretty good result for me”, he said.
In March a trial with adult stem cells showed how the treatment dramatically improved the lives of people with multiple sclerosis.
Professor John Snowden, director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: “We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis”.
While Professor Basil Sharrack, a neurologist at the same hospital, added that it “is the best result” he has seen “in any trial for multiple sclerosis”.