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Study: 3D printing could revolutionize treatment for cataracts, other eye conditions


This research ultimately could enhance the manufacture of eye implants universally used in cataract and refractive surgeries.

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/phonlamaiphoto)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/phonlamaiphoto)

A team of researchers from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, have made a significant breakthrough in ocular device technology with the introduction of a novel resin for 3D printing intraocular devices.

According to a University of East Anglia(UEA) news release, this research ultimately could enhance the manufacture of eye implants universally used in cataract and refractive surgeries.1

The study was published in the journal Current Eye Research.2

Patients with cataracts often receive an IOL implanted into the eye. They can also be also used to correct refractive errors such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and presbyopia (when eyes gradually lose the ability to see things clearly up close, as a normal part of aging).

Lead author Aram Saeed, PhD, an associate professor in Healthcare Technologies at UEA's School of Pharmacy, pointed out in the news release researchers have developed a resin that can be used to print ocular devices directly.

“While still in the early stages, the ability to 3D print these lenses could significantly enhance eye care for patients by offering unprecedented levels of customization and design precision, potentially leading to better clinical outcomes,” Saeed said in the news release.

Over the years, IOLs have been produced using a range of materials, including glass and silicone, although more recently the industry has shifted to the use of acrylic materials.

According to the news release, hydrophilic and hydrophobic acrylic are the most commonly used materials due to their excellent optical clarity, flexibility, biocompatibility with the body and for their stability and safety within the eye.

Current methods of making IOLs use lathing and molding techniques. While these methods offer the production of well-engineered and high-optical quality devices, they also come with inherent limitations, particularly in terms of design complexity and customization.1

“3D printing could significantly enhance the production of ocular devices, not only improving speed and precision in manufacturing but also enabling greater complexity and customization in design,” Saeed said.“Our proof-of-concept paper is the first in a series that will detail our developments in this area and set the stage for transforming eye care practices globally.”

Saeed also noted researchers’ work combines material science with healthcare technology and requires extensive know-how in developing these types of ocular devices.1

“As we continue to publish our findings and share our advancements, we aim to be at the forefront of the industry, working with industrial partners and researchers worldwide to refine and enhance the technology,” he said in the news release.

While it is still in the early stages of development, the research could have several advantages:

  • Tailored Lenses: 3D printing could create lenses customized to each patient's eye shape and vision needs, potentially improving vision correction and comfort.
  • Faster Production: Compared to traditional methods, 3D printing has the potential to enable quicker design, testing, and manufacturing of lenses. This speed could reduce the time between diagnosis and surgery, providing faster care to patients.
  • Complex Designs: 3D printing makes it possible to create intricate lens shapes that were previously difficult to manufacture. These designs could better address a wider range of vision problems.
  • Cost Reduction: By using 3D printing, the production cost of custom or high-quality lenses may decrease, making them more affordable for more patients, particularly in economically disadvantaged regions. This could lead to better overall public health outcomes.
  • Compatibility with Imaging: The researchers hope that combining 3D printing with advanced imaging technologies in the future could help produce lenses that fit individual patients' eyes optimally, reducing the need for adjustments or complications after surgery.
  • Material Innovation: 3D printing allows for the development of new materials with improved optical performance. This could result in lenses that not only correct vision but also enhance it.

According to the UEA news release, the researchers found that the 3D printed lenses have good optical clarity, can be folded, and implanted into a human capsular bag.

Co-author Michael Wormstone, PhD, BSc, emeritus professor at UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, pointed out in the news release that if successful in additional developments, the technology could transform the industry by enabling portable manufacturing solutions, especially beneficial in remote and economically challenged areas of the world.

“It also has the potential to support the production of premium, customized lenses that could enhance surgical outcomes in more advanced healthcare settings,” he said in the UEA news release.

Moreover, the research team’s work has received a United States patent, assigned to UEA Enterprise Limited, a business entity of the university focused on fostering innovation and commercializing research.

The UEA researchers continue to work closely with industry partners to refine the technology.

For example, further work has been underway to ensure the process works accurately on a larger scale and to increase the printing resolution to improve the dimensional accuracy.

It is hoped that clinical trials could start in the next few years.

According to UEA, Saeed and Wormstone have a strong partnership with the ophthalmology department at Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital (NNUH), which brings valuable clinical insights and visionary approaches to their work, with both UEA and the hospital members of the pioneering Norwich Research Park.1

This innovation has the potential to enable the production of lenses that match patient specifications in design and optical performance,” Anas Injarie, a leading consultant ophthalmologist at NNUH with more than 20 years of experience, said in the news release. "This innovation has the potential to enable the production of lenses that match patient specifications in design and optical performance.”

Injarie pointed out that for premium markets, it represents an exciting possibility to provide tailored treatments that could enhance patient satisfaction and surgical success.

The research was funded by the University of East Anglia through the Innovation Development Fund and Proof-Of-Concept grants; the Humane Research Trust; and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Additional funding was provided by UEA’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC).

  1. Innovative 3D printing could revolutionise treatment for cataracts and other eye conditions. EurekAlert! Accessed May 20, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1044707
  2. Hidalgo-Alvarez V, Falcon ND, Eldred J, Wormstone M, Saeed A. Stereolithographic Rapid Prototyping of Clear, Foldable, Non-Refractive Intraocular Lens Designs: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Curr Eye Res. Published May 19, 2024. Accessed May 20, 2024. :1-10. doi: 10.1080/02713683.2024.2344164. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38762982.
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