At this time, there’s nothing that can restore vision to a person who has lost an eye, unfortunately. That may change in the future; in fact, some researchers fully expect that functioning artificial eyes will one day be available to those who need them. Until that day comes, however, artificial eyes are merely cosmetic, though that doesn’t make them any less important. Losing an eye changes the appearance of the entire face, and most people who have lost an eye rely on either a patch or a prosthetic. Those prosthetics have come a long way in terms of realistic appearance; they may not function, but they can make the patient look the way they did before the loss of their eye.
About 60,000 patients in South Korea require an artificial eye, but only 40,000 have access to one. Thanks to Seoul’s Severance Hospital, however, many more patients may be about to be able to receive artificial eyes – of the 3D printed variety. A team led by Professor Yoon Jin-sook of the hospital’s department of ophthalmology and artificial eye maker Baik Seung-woon have spent three years researching in order to develop a way to make ocular prosthetics using 3D printing, which is faster and simpler than traditional means of fabrication and could make it easier for more patients to obtain them.
Now the team is getting ready to commercialize the 3D printed artificial eyes. They have licensed the technology to Carima, a Seoul-based company specializing in DLP technology, and have completed Phase 1 of the Artificial Eye Project, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Science and ICT. The project is part of the ministry’s Next Generation New Concept Medical Device Development Technology Project and has been renewed for Phase 2 thanks to its success.
By 2020, Professor Yoon and her team plan to be testing the safety and validity of the 3D printed artificial eye prototypes, as well as helping Carima obtain GMP certification and begin mass production. Carima and the Severance Hospital team also plan to create a remote consultation network system that can provide 3D printed artificial eyes to people across the world. A patent has been registered in China, as well.
“We want to help patients who need artificial eyes with our 3D printing technology. Our team plans provide top-notch public health services through high-quality artificial eyes and a network that can increase patient access,” Professor Yoon said.
There is hope coming from many directions for people with eye conditions including blindness. Recently, UK researchers developed 3D printed corneas, and while it will be several years before they can potentially be used for transplants, eventually they may be able to restore sight to those with damaged corneas. For people who have lost one or both eyes completely, the day may yet come when their vision can be restored by an artificial, functional eye. That day is not here yet, but technology is progressing so quickly that that day may not be terribly far off. Until then, the Severance Hospital team is offering the next best thing – access to realistic prosthetic eyes that can be quickly and affordably made.
Discuss this story and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the comments below.[Source: Korea Biomedical Review]