An American 3D printing lab believes it's created a novel way for eye doctors to study glaucoma. By producing 3D images of the eye's trabecular meshwork (TM), these researchers feel ophthalmologists can come up novel ways to cure this all too common eye disease.
The lab behind this new solution to glaucoma is the Krebs Biochemical Engineering Lab at the Colorado School of Mines. Professors involved in this study used the BioBot Beta 3D printer to find the best possible settings for creating these threads.
Believe it or not, the researchers decided to use algae as their gel base. People involved in the study said that algae has a great ability to keep its shape, which makes it perfect for studying human cells.
Also, algae can absorb as much as 90 percent of the water it comes into contact with. This high water content makes algae a perfect environment on which to grow and study cells.
After figuring out they were going to use algae, the researchers then had to figure out how to arrange the substance. They suggested arranging the gel into a series of scaffold-like structures. This structure is said to closely resemble tissues in the human body.
The Colorado researchers say that if eye doctors could culture cells on this structure for a few days, they would be able to naturally grow human tissue that closely resembled TM. This TM could then be used in clinical trials to test out new glaucoma therapies.
The main cause of glaucoma is excess fluid blocking up the cell tissues in the TM. This fluid builds up intraocular pressure (IOP) and can completely cloud the retinae. If left unchecked, glaucoma could cause blindness.
As of today, doctors can only study the TM using 2D models. Researchers at Colorado say their 3D model could greatly enhance eye doctor's understanding of how the TM actually works rather than relying on flat photos.
The idea for this 3D bioprinted TM was first shown to undergraduates studying in the Polymer Research Experience program. Raymond Huff, Melissa Krebs, and Matthew Osmond were the key developers on this project. Their study was officially called "In vitro 3D bioprinting trabecular meshwork models using organic hydrogels" and can be found on Colorado School of Mines' official website.
Glaucoma is a fairly common condition for people over the age of 40, although it can strike anyone at any age. While this disease can present symptoms early on, most people don't experience visual symptoms until the disease has well advanced. It's critical for everyone to get an annual eye exam to check for this condition.
The earlier a doctor can catch glaucoma, the more s/he can do to help the patient slow the disease's progression. A few common treatment strategies include laser eye surgery and the prescribing the eye drops Latanoprost.
It's estimated that around 60.5 million people around the world have glaucoma. That number makes glaucoma the second leading cause of blindness globally. As the global population rises, the World Health Organization expects glaucoma to become a major global health challenge.