To print the eye, Fraunhofer devised a process that would cover every step of the patient experience, from taking a patient’s measurements and matching the design to the healthy eye all the way to printing the actual prosthetic. While a traditionally-produced prosthetic eye can take months to reach its recipient, a prosthetic made using Fraunhofer’s technology can be completed in half the time. The 3D printed eye also appears more realistic, which is a contributing factor to many patients’ comfort.
“The closer you get to the real thing makes me feel more and more confident,” said Verze to On Demand News. “If I can’t spot the difference, I know other people can’t spot the difference.”
The method by which the eye is fitted is unconventional, too. Rather than make a wax and alginate mold of the patient’s empty eye socket—an uncomfortable and invasive route that only sometimes involves the patient undergoing anesthesia—Fraunhofer Technology elected to work with Occupeye Ltd, a British sensor company that modified an ophthalmic scanner for the project. The scanner enables Fraunhofer to measure a patient’s eye socket within 2.4 seconds.
After obtaining the measurements of the empty eye socket, Fraunhofer captures a color-calibrated image of the patient’s healthy eye and combines the data in a system called “Cuttlefish:Eye,” which produces a 3D print model for the prosthetic. Fraunhofer then prints the model using a multicolor, multimaterial 3D printer.
The technology lends new hope to those who have experienced the loss of an eye, whether from a serious disease like eye cancer or following a traumatic injury. “Having major surgery to remove an eye, for example, is psychologically very challenging. So being able to give a realistic-looking prosthetic eye to the patient as quickly as possible . . . is a big advantage,” said Mandeep Sagoo, ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital. In Fraunhofer’s press release, Sagoo added, “[The technology] clearly has the potential to reduce waiting lists.”
Fraunhofer’s technology represents the first development in prosthetic eye manufacturing for several decades. Such developments haven’t been made for decades; now, an eye can be 3D printed right alongside other healthcare elements, like respirator valves and multi-chamber pills.
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