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Innovative 3D printing could revolutionize treatment of cataracts and other eye diseases

Innovative 3D printing could revolutionize treatment of cataracts and other eye diseases


Researchers at the University of East Anglia have made a major advance in intraocular device technology with the introduction of a new resin for 3D printing intraocular devices, an innovation that has the potential to improve the manufacturing of intraocular implants that are widely used in cataract and refractive surgery.

Artificial intraocular lenses (IOLs) are primarily needed for people with cataracts, a condition in which the eye's natural lens becomes clouded and obstructs vision.

They can also be used to correct refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia, and presbyopia (the gradual age-related loss of ability to see close objects clearly).

“For the first time, we have developed a resin that can be used to directly print ophthalmic devices,” said Dr Alam Saeed, lead author of the paper and associate professor of healthcare technology in UEA's School of Pharmacy.

“Though still in its early stages, the ability to 3D print these lenses has the potential to significantly improve eye care for patients by offering an unprecedented level of customization and design precision, leading to better clinical outcomes.”

Historically, IOLs have been made from a variety of materials, including glass and silicone, but the industry has evolved significantly in recent times to primarily use acrylic materials.

Currently, hydrophilic and hydrophobic acrylics are the most commonly used materials due to their excellent optical transparency, flexibility, biocompatibility with the human body, and stability and safety in the eye.

Current IOL manufacturing methods involve turning and molding techniques that can produce devices with excellent design and high optical quality, but also have inherent limitations, especially in terms of design complexity and customization.

Dr Alam Saeed said: “3D printing has the potential to significantly improve the production of ophthalmic devices, increasing not only the speed and precision of manufacturing but also the complexity and customisation of designs.”

“Our proof-of-concept paper is the first in a series of papers detailing our developments in this field and laying the groundwork for transforming the practice of eye care globally.

“Our work combines materials science and healthcare technology, and developing these types of ophthalmic devices requires extensive know-how.

“As we continue to publish our research and share our progress, we aim to be at the forefront of the industry and collaborate with industrial partners and researchers around the world to refine and enhance our technology.”

Though still in the early stages of development, this innovation could offer several benefits.

  • Tailor-made lenses3D printing allows for the creation of 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 speed up the design, testing and production of lenses. This speed could shorten the time between diagnosis and surgery, resulting in faster patient care.

  • Intricate Design3D printing makes it possible to create complex lens shapes that were previously difficult to manufacture. These designs can better address a wider range of vision problems.

  • Cost reductionThe use of 3D printing could lower the cost of producing custom and high-quality lenses, making them more affordable for more patients, especially in economically disadvantaged communities, potentially improving overall public health outcomes.

  • Imaging compatibilityThe researchers hope that in the future, combining 3D printing with advanced imaging techniques will enable them to manufacture lenses that are optimally fitted to each individual patient's eye, reducing the need for adjustments and complications after surgery.

The study found that the 3D printed lenses were optically clear and could be folded and implanted into the human lens capsule.

Co-author Michael Wormstone, Professor Emeritus at UEA's School of Biological Sciences, said: “If further development is successful, this new technology could enable portable manufacturing solutions that could transform a lucrative industry, particularly in remote and economically disadvantaged areas.”

“Additionally, it has the potential to support the production of high-quality customized lenses that could potentially improve surgical outcomes in more advanced clinical settings.”

The team’s efforts have been recognised with a US patent being awarded and assigned to UEA Enterprises Limited, a University entity focused on fostering innovation and commercialising research.

UEA researchers are working closely with industry partners to refine the technology.

For example, further work is underway to ensure the process works accurately on a large scale and to increase print resolution and improve dimensional accuracy.

Clinical trials are expected to begin within the next few years.

Dr Saeed and Professor Wormstone have a strong partnership with the Ophthalmology Department at Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital (NNUH), bringing valuable clinical insight and visionary approaches to their work with both UEA and the hospital members of the pioneering Norwich Research Park.

Anas Injari, a leading ophthalmologist at NNUH with over 20 years of experience, said: “This innovation has the potential to enable the production of lenses that match patient specifications in terms of design and optical performance.”

“For the premium market, this represents an exciting opportunity to offer customized treatments that can increase patient satisfaction and surgical success rates.”

The research was funded by the University of East Anglia's Innovation Development Fund and Proof of Concept Grant, the Humane Research Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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

The paper, “Stereolithographic rapid prototyping of a transparent, foldable, non-refractive intraocular lens design: a proof-of-concept study,” has been published in the journal Current Ophthalmology Research.




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