Jul 19, 2016 | By Alec

While new medical 3D printing applications seem to be developed every week, there are still so many fields in healthcare that could benefit from custom 3D printed solutions. Fortunately, Belgian specialists from the Academic Hospital of the University of Leuven have just brought 3D printing to ophthalmology as well. They have developed the world’s first 3D printed eye prosthesis, for a 68-year-old male patient. What’s more, the prosthesis only cost €1,300 (approximately $1,430) to make, and is largely covered by the patient’s insurance.

Of course eye prostheses have around for decades, and the reason why 3D printing hasn’t yet been applied in this field is probably because there’s very little demand for them. They’re obviously worn by patients who lose an eye for whatever reason. Serious eye infections, eye tumors or a misshaped blind eye can necessitate eye removal, while some patients are born without an eye. In Leuven, they only see about two patients per month who need an eye prosthesis. These aren’t bionic, but merely prosthetic – patients can’t see through them, but the muscle tissue surrounding the eye can facilitate movement to create a normal appearance.

But problematically, all prostheses need to be made by hand. And as there’s so little demand for them, there are usually only a few specialists in a single country who are capable of producing these prostheses. You can’t just sign up for a course in eye prosthesis making. Leuven is the only Belgian hospital to employ a full-time specialist, who makes about 70 different prostheses per year. It’s also a very artistic job: the iris is painted by hand to match the other eye, while choosing the right white color for the sclera can be difficult too. The little blood vessels are usually mimicked using miniscule red cotton threads.

It is thus, as eye socket surgeon professor Ilse Mombaerts puts it, a luxury item. “Eye prostheses are a luxury, and communication with the artist is thus of crucial importance for the design of their new eye. The ophthalmologists that performed the surgery on them are often directly involved with the artist who designs the prosthesis,” she explains. The artisanal prosthesis costs about €1,300 to make, but as the hospital previously invested in medical 3D printing, the costs stay approximately the same. They are currently using Materialise 3D printing systems, which do not affect delivery times at all.

But anything artisanal can also be imperfect, while it can be challenging to get a perfect fit in the eye socket as well. That’s why the hospital’s ophthalmologists turned to 3D printing. Traditionally, the eye socket is measured with an alginate mold, made through a very time-consuming and trial-and-error procedure that puts a lot of pressure on delicate tissue. But this time, the specialists instead used a cbct (cone beam computed tomography) scan to make a 3D printable model. It’s a very common procedures for dental surgery already, as it is ideal for getting a perfect model of the area without hurting the patient – but the Belgian specialists are now thus the first to apply this to eye prostheses.

That model was subsequently 3D printed by the hospital’s 3D engineer, and sent on to the eye prosthesis specialist. For this particular patient, the 3D print served as a model with which the artisanal prosthesis was created. Over time, however, the hospital intends to directly 3D print the models in a carbon material – which they are already doing for dental prostheses. “An eye prosthesis that can be 3D printed directly isn’t technically possible yet, but will definitely be within our reach soon,” says professor Mombaerts. “A carbon prosthesis will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Blind Pew wrote at 7/19/2016 4:53:28 PM:

Eye's be watching you...

Jim Walker wrote at 7/19/2016 4:09:22 PM:

One way a person can not have an eyeball is to be born without them, known as Bilateral Anapthalma.

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