For every person in the world who receives a cornea transplant, there are 69 others who still need one. That leaves about 12.5 million people with limited sight because there aren’t enough eye donors. But what if we could grow new corneas in the lab?
Over the last decade, scientists have been testing artificial corneas made from synthetic collagen gel. One of the difficulties is in getting the gel to take the right curved shape to fit the eye and focus light so the patient can see again.
My colleagues and I recently found a way to make gel containing live corneal cells self-assemble into the correct pattern, like a piece of paper that folds itself into an origami design. The same principle could one day be exploited to produce other human organs, potentially helping millions more people in need of transplants.