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How to print an eye cell: potential for bioprinting in a future cure for blindness
A research group based in Cambridge University in the UK have published a study in today’s issue of the journal Biofabrication in which they demonstrate successful use of inkjet printing technology to print eye cells for the very first time. The group used a piezoelectric printhead to print two types of rat central nervous system (CNS) cells, namely retinal ganglion cell (RGC) neurons and retinal glia. Although this is a preliminary study and there is a long way to go before possible human trials, this is potentially significant for blindness as many blinding eye diseases feature loss of retinal nerve cells. The paper’s co-authors, Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, University of Cambridge have stated that “the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future”.

The researchers performed different tests on the printed cells to check their cell number and viability and their survival and RGC neural outgrowth in culture. They found that the cells were not appreciably deformed upon exiting the printhead, despite being subjected to significant shear pressure. However, final cell counts were lower than for non-printed control cells, probably due to sedimentation. Importantly, cell viability was unaffected. In addition, there were no significant differences in cell survival or neurite outgrowth in culture after 5 days between control and printed RGCs or in survival of control or printed retinal glia. Finally, RGCs grew longer neurites when plated on a glial substrate and this occurred to a similar extent whether the RGCs and glia were printed or not prior to plating.

The authors plan to extend their studies to other cells of the retina and determine if light-sensitive photoreceptors can be printed using this technology. This would be the key to possible cures for some forms of blindness. They also would like to translate their work from their current printer system to a commercial, multi-nozzle printhead such as MicroFab.


LORBER, B., HSIAO, W.-K. , HUTCHINGS, I.M. and MARTIN, K.R., 2014. Adult rat retinal ganglion cells and glia can be printed by piezoelectric inkjet printing. Biofabrication, 6(1), pp. 015001.
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