Big breakthrough in cure for blindness

In a major breakthrough, an inkjet printer in Britain can print eye cells which can be used to cure human blindness.

For the first time ever, researchers from UK have used inkjet printing technology to successfully print two types of cells from the retina of adult rats - ganglion cells and glial cells.

The breakthrough could lead to the production of artificial tissue grafts made from the variety of cells found in the human retina and may aid in the search to cure blindness.

In their study, the researchers used a piezoelectric inkjet printer device that ejected the cells through a sub-millimetre diameter nozzle when a specific electrical pulse was applied. They also used high speed video technology to record the printing process with high resolution and optimised their procedures accordingly.

"In order for a fluid to print well from an inkjet print head, its properties, such as viscosity and surface tension, need to conform to a fairly narrow range of values. Adding cells to the fluid complicates its properties significantly," Dr Wen-Kai Hsiao from the Inkjet Research Centre in Cambridge University said.

Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, 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".

The finding could be a big boon for blind people across the world. India is home to the world's largest number of blind people. Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India.

Once printed, a number of tests were performed on each type of cell to see how many of the cells survived the process and how it affected their ability to survive and grow.

The cells derived from the retina of the rats were retinal ganglion cells, which transmit information from the eye to certain parts of the brain, and glial cells, which provide support and protection for neurons.

"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. In addition, we would like to further develop our printing process to be suitable for commercial, multi-nozzle print heads," Professor Martin concluded.

At the moment the results are preliminary and provide proof-of-principle that an inkjet printer can be used to print two types of cells from the retina of adult rats.

This is the first time the technology has been used successfully to print mature central nervous system cells and the results showed that printed cells remained healthy and retained their ability to survive and grow in culture.

The ability to arrange cells into highly defined patterns and structures has recently elevated the use of 3D printing in the biomedical sciences to create cell-based structures for use in regenerative medicine.


India is now home to the world's largest number of blind people.

Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, over 15 million are from India.

75% of these are cases of avoidable blindness.

India faces severe shortage of optometrists and donated eyes for the treatment of blindness.

While India needs 40,000 optometrists, it has only 8,000.

India needs 2.5 lakh donated eyes every year.

India's 109 eye banks manage to collect a maximum of just 25,000 eyes, 30% of which can't be used.

India has only 12,000 ophthalmologists.

153 million people in the country require reading glasses but do not have access to them.

India has just 20 optometry schools which produce just 1,000 optometrists annually as against the 17 million people being added to the population during the same period.

Of the 15 million blind people in India, three million, 26% of whom are children, suffer due to corneal disorders.

But only 10,000 corneal transplants are being done every year due to the shortage of donated eyes.

India's health ministry expects to reach its blindness elimination target of 0.3% by 2015, five years before the WHO deadline of 2020.

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