The World’s First 3D Printed Eye Finds Recipient


There are several injuries and diseases that result to the loss of vision. The sufferers oftentimes need to learn living their lives with coping mechanisms. Sometimes, doctors recommend that prosthetic eyes are made of glass and then painted to match the person’s natural eyeball. However, there are changes expected in the future of prosthetic eye replacements. Experts see that these will be made by 3D printers.

In fact, researchers from Fraunhofer Technology have made breakthroughs in 3D printing prosthetic eyes. They have managed to supply their first ever patient with a 3D printed eye. In the past few years, Fraunhofer researchers have developed several new technologies that help ramp up and better the manual production of individual prosthetic devices that are currently available. This new technology makes use of an innovative software they called Cuttlefish:Eye. This creates a 3D scan of the eye socket along with a color-calibrated photo of the healthy eye. This is why they are able to make the replica.

Then, the software uses a 3D printing driver to print the eye with a multicolor and multimaterial 3D printer. The result of the 3D printing technology and the scan of the healthy eye is a prosthetic that looks more real and lifelike. The printer comes with so many benefits. Aside from the more realistic prosthetic eye, it also requires very little time than creating these one at a time.

This new prosthetic eye with the latest process went to a recipient in a clinical trial that was conducted at Moorfields Eye Hospital London. The breakthrough didn’t happen overnight.  The researchers worked on it for four years first before they went out to test it. Professor Mandeep Sagoo, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields, explained how he and the rest of the team hope the coming clinical trial will provide evidence that highlights the importance of this new technology. Sagoo also said that he expects the technology to make a significant difference in the treatment because it has the ability to reduce the waiting time of those on the list for prosthetic devices.

Project researchers looked into the need for a prosthetic eye and discovered that a variety of injuries and disease conditions require that the patient remove an eye. They also found that this affects about three-quarters of a million people in Europe alone and over 8 million all over the world. The new technology makes the creation of prosthetic eyes much better, and the best part is that this has used essentially similar manufacturing processes for years now.

For the current method used, the production is so invasive, and the molding procedure can stressful especially for children. Then as soon as the molding process is done, the current production processes utilize time-consuming handcrafted work that requires several months of wait before the eye is even made available. With the new technology, on the other hand, the initial appointment for a patient to receive the 3D printed eye only needs seconds.

The new process makes use of a non-invasive, non-ionizing scan. It also uses a modified Optical Coherence Tomography ophthalmic scanner. The process takes about 2.4 seconds. However, it’s also good to note that this scanner isn’t the first ever. It has been used in hospitals as part of their routine. Then when the scan is complete, a color-calibrated photo of the eye is produced. This is then transferred to the Fraunhofer IGD. The Cuttlefish:Eye software has the ability to create a 3D printed model that it sends to the printer. This is when the magic starts to happen.

The 3D eye prosthesis is printed by Fit AG. The company has been there for years, and with this technology, they have leveraged their place in the market even further. Once printing is done, the eye is inspected and then polished by expert ocularists. With just one printer, around 10,000 prosthetics can be printed annually. The gap will be connected and much of the need will be fulfilled.

Because the eye will be implanted into the human body, rigorous quality control measures are needed. Cuttlefish:Eye software has been classified as a Class 1 medical device. Researchers went through thorough tests for biocompatibility with the 3D printing material. In the UK, the technology was granted the letter of approval for clinical trials by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Because of the latest developments, about 40 volunteers will be recruited for the clinical trial, with each one getting a 3D printed ocular prosthesis. In the next 12 months, the participants will be checked by experienced clinicians. They will be asked to give a report on their experiences with the new prosthetic they’ve received. While one 3D printer could cater to the yearly need for all of Europe, researchers also believe that one scanning device per clinic and the deployment of a small number of geographically located 3D printers would be ideal if they want to meet the global demand for over 8 million people who could benefit from this.

Further research is being conducted as they consider the next-generation of prosthetic devices. They’re also looking into prosthetic limbs. For instance, they are considering the use of magnets to help control bionic limbs. The researchers are also trying to create technology to enable a sense of touch for bionic limbs. A sense of touch is vital so that its beneficiary will know how hard to grasp an object without accidentally breaking it or dropping it.

Just recently, in fact, a man who suffered from quadriplegia was able to feed himself for the first time ever with the help of an advanced robotic prosthetic device. This received signals taken from his brain using six electrode arrays implanted directly into his cerebrum. During its testing phase, the patient used the brain-machine interface and robotic arms. He was able to slice a Twinkie with a knife before he fed himself using a fork.

As for the prosthetic eye, a fortunate Londoner has become the recipient of the world’s-first 3D printed digital eye. The process cut the time it took to develop a prosthesis by half, and the best part is how realistic it looked. Steve Verze is a 47-year-old engineer from Hackney who had needed the prosthetic eye when he was 20 years old. He finally had it fitted.

“When I leave my home I often take a second glance in the mirror, and I’ve not liked what I’ve seen,” Verze shared in a press release. “This new eye looks fantastic and, being based on 3D digital printing technology, it’s only going to be better and better.”

The process required hand-painting an iris onto a disc before inserting it into the eye socket. Because of limitations, the reflection of the light off the disc instead of penetrating it deeply makes it apparent that it’s not real. With the 3D printer, three weeks leeway is needed for preparation instead of the normal six. More importantly, the process is much less invasive.

In order to make a traditional prosthetic eye, a physical mold of the eye socket is needed. The 3D printer just needs a digital for this, which makes it cleaner, faster, and more accurate.

With Verze’s case, his functional eye was also scanned to make sure that the prosthetic one would match it exactly. Clinical lead Professor Mandeep Sagoo of Moorsfields Eye Hospital, shared what took place in the procedure and said, “We hope the forthcoming clinical trial will provide us with robust evidence about the value of this new technology, showing what a difference it makes for patients.”

3D printing is definitely on its way to revolutionizing the world of prosthetics. These intelligent machines are a lot more affordable when it comes to restoring limbs of other animals as well. Turtles, dogs, ducks, and even a toucan have been lucky to receive on, and it’s made a difference.