The finding 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, scientists say.

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 – ganglion cells and glial cells, scientists said.

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 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," co-authors of the study Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, University of Cambridge, said.

"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," researchers said.

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," said Dr Wen-Kai Hsiao, another member of the team based at the Inkjet Research Centre in Cambridge.

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.    The study was published in the journal Biofabrication.


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