3D printing eyes the future of prosthetics

Researchers at Fraunhofer Technology have made breakthroughs in 3D printing prosthetic eyes and have supplied their 3D printed eye to the first patient.

Fraunhofer researchers have developed several new technologies that improve the current manual production of individual prosthetic devices. The technology utilises software called Cuttlefish:Eye that can create a 3D scan of the eye socket along with a colour-calibrated photo of the healthy eye to create a 3D replica.

The software then utilises a 3D printing driver to print the eye using a multicolour and multi-material 3D printer. The result of the 3D printing technology and the scan of the healthy eye is a prosthetic that looks more realistic. Another benefit of the 3D printing technology is that while it makes a more realistic prosthetic eye, it also requires only a fraction of the time of creating them individually by hand.

Recently, a prosthetic eye created using the process was given to a patient in a clinical trial conducted at Moorfields Eye Hospital London. Researchers worked on their process for four years before the first eye was used to treat a patient. Professor Mandeep Sagoo, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields, says he and other researchers in the project hope the coming clinical trial will provide evidence highlighting the value of the technology. Sagoo also expects the technology to make a significant difference in the treatment for patients and to reduce waiting lists for prosthetic devices.

Project researchers say that various injuries and disease conditions requiring the removal of an eye impacts about three-quarters of a million people in Europe alone and over 8 million around the world. The new technology improves the creation of prosthetic eyes, which has used the same essential manufacturing processes for decades.

One of the biggest challenges of common methods for producing this type of prosthetic is the invasive moulding procedure that can be distressing enough in children that general anaesthetics is required. Once the moulding process is over, current production methods utilise time-consuming handcrafted work creating several months of waiting before the eye is available. Utilising the new technology, the initial appointment for a patient receiving the 3D printed eye lasts seconds.