A hospital patient from Hackney, east London in the U.K. will be the first person to ever be fitted with a 3D-printed prosthetic eye, a press statement reveals.
The prosthetic eye was designed to look more realistic than traditional acrylic prosthetic eyes and the 3D printing process drastically reduces the waiting time for a new prosthetic from six weeks to between two and three weeks.
'The new eye looks fantastic'
The patient, Steve Varze, will undergo the procedure on Thursday, Nov. 25, at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, run by the U.K.'s NHS public health service. Traditionally, a prosthetic patient will have to undergo a two-hour procedure to mold their eye socket before their prosthetic eye is fitted and then painted. With the new 3D printing method, the time for the procedure is cut to only 30 minutes, according to Moorfields Eye Hospital.
The new process sees specialists scan the patient's eye socket, allowing software to map out a 3D model for the printer. This data is sent to the 3D printer in Germany, where it is printed in only 2.5 hours before being sent to the U.K.
The patient for the first-ever 3D-printed eye prosthetic, Varze, 40, says he's worn a prosthetic eye since he was 20 and that the "new eye looks fantastic." What's more, "being based on 3D digital printing technology, it's only going to be better and better," he says.
3D printing will transform bionic prosthetics
Though this constitutes an impressive first, the 3D-printed eye is not to be confused with bionic eye technology which aims to help people see using implantable electronic devices. One example of bionic vision technology comes from Pixium Vision SA, which won the HealthTech Award 2020 for its Prima System. Its technology allows blind people to see using a photovoltaic substitute for photoreceptors.
However, as Professor Mandeep Sagoo, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital explained, he and his staff are "excited" at the possibility that the 3D-printed prosthetic eye technology they are using can, in the future, allow for a fully digital prosthetic eye. "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. It clearly has the potential to reduce waiting lists," Sagoo explains.
According to the WHO, approximately 285 million people worldwide suffer from visual impairment, with 39 million of those being totally blind. Thanks to new advances in 3D printing technologies and bionic vision systems, waiting times are likely to be greatly reduced while the quality of life of patients is greatly improved.