A look at the possible uses of 3D printers for eye care

  • In recent years, there has been increased interest in the use of 3D printing in healthcare.
  • 3D printing is already being used for some implants and prostheses, with research aimed at using the technology to create human organs and tissues as well as drugs.
  • Now scientists have presented research showing how 3D printing could be used in eye care.

In recent years, the use of 3D printing in healthcare has seen an increase.

3D printing has already been used to create some implants And prostheses. And research is currently underway on ways to use 3D printing for humans. organs And fabrics as well as drugs.

Now, scientists from the Center for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, recently presented research during the ARVO Annual Meeting 2023 showing how 3D printing could potentially be used in eye care.

Potential 3D printing applications included ocular drug delivery, biodegradable contact lenses, and a 3D bioprinted eye model that could be used to test eye-delivered drugs.

The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Unlike a standard printer that prints words and photos on a flat sheet of paper, 3D printing creates a true three-dimensional object.

The 3D printer does this by using layers of “print” material. These layers continue to build and shape into the object they imprint. For this reason, 3D printing is considered an additive technology.

A variety of materials, including plastics, metals, composites, and ceramics, can be used to 3D print objects.

For 3D printing medical devices, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these elements through its Health Devices and Radiology Center (CDRH).

According Dr. Alex HuiHead of Biosciences at the Center for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) at the University of Waterloo, the main advantage of 3D printing is flexibility.

“3D printing is opening up new avenues for the rapid, on-demand, and personalized manufacturing of ocular devices, ranging from glasses, contact lenses, or drug-delivering ocular inserts,” he said. Medical News Today. “We can also leverage this technology to create better in vitro eye models to screen for drugs or test new eye products.”

“Although the potential of 3D printing in eye care is quite promising, we are still quite a long way from that reality,” Hui added. “This is precisely why we decided to continue this research, helping to bridge the gap between 3D printing and ophthalmic applications.”

This isn’t the first time scientists have looked into 3D printing for eye health. A study in December 2022 show how 3D bio-printing could be used to create eye tissue. Other research has looked at 3D printing for contact lenses And intraocular lenses.

“From a consumer perspective, 3D printing potentially enables the production of medical devices at the point of care, such as in the office or at home,” Hui said. “The most useful application will be for situations requiring a custom, unique or specialized design for a single patient. We envision that this technology could have an impact on scleral lenses, orthokeratology, and drug delivery where personalized and personalized products are highly desirable. Products that have a short shelf life or products that take weeks or months to produce can also benefit from this technology. »

Three of the innovations in 3D printing revolved around making and using 3D printed products. polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic chips.

The researchers considered using this chip to test eye cell responses under certain conditions, as well as using the chip to make a contact lens that can test drugs administered through the eyes.

In addition, scientists were able to integrate human corneal epithelial cells (HCEC) in the PDMS chip for use in cell biology studies.

“Microfluidic devices are a commonly used tool in research and diagnosis,” Hui explained. “For example, consider COVID test strips that use similar principles, where only a small amount of liquid is tapped to gain information. Those made from PDMS are mainly used for cell-containing research, but the traditional process of making PDMS microfluidic devices is quite time-consuming and expensive.

“CORE used 3D printing to facilitate this process, allowing us to create design elements that would not normally be possible with traditional approaches,” he continued. “We use these PDMS chips to help test and screen new drugs and products on cells for safety and efficacy. We may also design these chips in the future as a diagnostic tool, such as detecting tear film biomarkers for specific eye diseases, relatively quickly from concept to first prototypes.

Another study focused on the development of a biodegradable product bioink for 3D printing ophthalmic devices.

In this study, researchers used bio-ink to 3D print materials that can be used to make biodegradable contact lenses.

“Bio-inks are materials that have a compatible biological profile that can also be printed using a 3D printer,” Hui said. “We want to use this technology to print biodegradable eye inserts for drug delivery, and their geometric designs are quite simple, which makes it simple.”

“As a learning exercise, we also wanted to see if we could print a soft contact lens, which (is) very thin and soft, and for which there are many challenges in printing it correctly,” said- he added. “We will take the lessons learned and apply them for 3D printing hard lenses – i.e. scleral lenses and ortho K lenses.”

CORE researchers have also developed a soft hydrogel eye model with surfaces imitating the natural surfaces of the cornea And sclera. The model also has an internal chamber to mimic the natural interior of the eye.

The researchers believe that this type of eye model could be used to test the delivery of ocular drugs and their absorption by the cornea.

“There are many studies that require us to understand how drugs diffuse and enter the back of the eye, and there’s no way to simulate that,” Hui explained. “By experimenting with different bio-ink formulations, we can now 3D print a hydrogel eyeball with hollow structures that simulate the anterior and posterior chambers. New advances will help us study various methods of delivering drugs to the back of the eye. As our work grows, we hope to produce models not only for research but also for educational purposes, allowing clinicians to learn and practice techniques on them prior to patient interactions.

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr Benjamin Bertophthalmologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California, about this research.

“Any application of new technology that we can use to try to improve the care that we provide that gets things done is always beneficial and always very exciting,” said Bert, who was not involved in this particular research.

Talking about the benefits 3D printing could bring to eyecare professionals in the future, Bert said it would open up accessibility.

So you can have technology that’s developed in one part of the world and then being able to print it just by having access to a 3D printer means you can bring it even to very remote areas and still have access to this very advanced technology,” he said.

“I think it’s a very interesting technology,” added Bert. “It has a lot of future applications. And that was kind of the first step in introducing some of the things where it could be used. I think we will hear a lot about it as time goes on and research continues to progress.

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