An artificial intraocular lens (IOL) is essential for people with cataracts, a condition where the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy, impairing vision. IOLs are also used to correct refractive errors such as myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), and presbyopia (the gradual loss of the eye’s ability to focus on close objects, a normal part of aging).

“For the first time, we have developed a resin that can be used to print ocular devices directly,” said Dr. Aram Saeed, Associate Professor in Healthcare Technologies at UEA’s School of Pharmacy. “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.”

Historically, IOLs have been made from materials like glass and silicone. However, the industry has evolved to predominantly use acrylic materials due to their optical clarity, flexibility, biocompatibility, stability, and safety within the eye. Currently, hydrophilic and hydrophobic acrylics are the most used materials.

Traditional methods of making IOLs, such as lathing and molding, produce high-quality optical devices but come with limitations, especially in terms of design complexity and customization. The innovation from UEA could revolutionize the production of ocular devices by creating tailored lenses for each patient’s eye shape and vision needs, speeding up production, and enabling complex designs.

The research team highlighted that their 3D printing technology could reduce the production cost of custom lenses and allow for the testing and utilization of new materials. The study demonstrated that the 3D-printed lenses had good optical clarity, could be folded, and implanted into a human capsular bag.

“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,” Dr. Saeed stated. “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.”

The researchers are now working to ensure the process works accurately on a larger scale and to increase the printing resolution for improved dimensional accuracy. Clinical trials could start in the next few years.

The UEA team has been awarded a United States patent and received funding from UEA’s Innovation Development Fund and Proof-Of-Concept grants, the Humane Research Trust, the EPSRC, UEA’s Impact Acceleration Account, and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

By Impact Lab