Researchers create first ever inkjet-printed eye cells

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

retinal cells
These images show individual cells released from a single inkjet.

Vision is one of our most complex senses and can be difficult to restore. However, researchers from the University of Cambridge have moved one step closer to curing blindness with their first ever inkjet-printed eye cells.

One way a person can go blind is by damaging their retina – a thin layer of cells which line the back of the eyeball. This layer is made of several types of cells with different functions. For example, photoreceptors are important for detecting light, while ganglion cells are responsible for transmitting this light information to the brain. Meanwhile, glial cells provide structure and protection for the rest of the cells in the retina. All of these specialized cells number in the millions and are arranged in a specific order that can be difficult to reproduce in a laboratory.

However, University of Cambridge researchers managed to produce ganglion and glial cells using an inkjet printer. “Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using… [an] inkjet printer,” stated Professor Keith Martin and Dr. Barbara Lorber, who both co-authored the study. In fact, they managed to print out the cells and keep them alive in a “culture” – a mini environment used to provide nourishment.

Though their results were successful, this was only a proof-of-principle study – an experiment intended to show that such a feat is even possible to do.

Moreover, the cells they used were from adult rats, so there’s still much work to do before the researchers can take these methods and apply them to human cells. “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,” said the co-authors.

Still, their technique could possibly be used to make an artificial graft (to implant in the back of the eye and restore vision to a previously blind person, and the researchers are planning to test different cells in the retina. “We plan to extend this study to print other cells of the retina and to investigate if light-sensitive photoreceptors can be successfully printed using inkjet technology,” said Professor Martin.

Featured image courtesy of University of Cambridge. Image of printed cells courtesy of Barbara Lorber et al.