The following is from Gail Johnson:
The ability to print retinal cells could lead to new therapies for retinal disorders such as macular degeneration.
Ink-jet printing technology could be a way to build new tissue meant to restore vision to people suffering from common forms of blindness due to retinal degeneration.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge used a standard ink-jet printer to form layers of two types of cells taken from the retinas of rats, and showed that the process did not compromise the cells’ health or ability to survive and grow in culture. Ink-jet printing has been used to deposit cells before, but this is the first time cells from an adult animal’s central nervous system have been printed.
The group hopes to develop the technology into a tool for generating new tissues that can be grown outside the eye and implanted in patients with retinal damage. Alternatively, the technique could potentially be used to insert cells directly into damaged retinas during ocular surgery, says Keith Martin, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Cambridge, who led the research.
Scientists can grow single layers of cells in cultures, but printing may be a more effective way to engineer new tissues and organs, which are made of multiple different cell types positioned in intricate three-dimensional orientations. The retina, for example, is a highly organized, multilayered structure composed of various types of neurons and non-neuronal cells. The new ink-jet technique makes it possible to place retinal cells in “very precise and special arrangements,” says Martin.