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25 November 2021

Moorfields patient receives world’s first 3D printed eye

A patient at the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has today become the first person in the world to be supplied solely with a fully digital 3D printed prosthetic eye.

Steve Verze (pictured), an engineer in his 40s from Hackney, is the first to take a fully digital artificial eye home with him. Following on from the announcement, a clinical trial will be starting at Moorfields.

Steve Verze, world's first 3D printed prosthetic eye

Currently, patients who need a prosthetic eye will often need surgery, leaving scar tissue. To allow for healing, they are given a temporary prosthetic eye six weeks after surgery, but this will not be a precise match to their natural eye. Typically, patients then wait for four to five months before the moulding appointment for their own prosthetic eye.

Today marks the first time a patient has ever used a 3D printed eye as their sole prosthetic. Unlike traditional methods, the new 3D printing process avoids the invasive moulding of the eye socket, which is often so difficult with children that they need a general anaesthetic, and uses scans instead.

The printed eye is a true biomimic and more realistic, with clearer definition and real depth to the pupil. The way light travels through the full depth of the printed eye is much more natural than current prosthetics, which have the iris hand-painted onto a black disc embedded in the eye, preventing light from passing the full depth of the eye.

Crucially, the production process for the 3D printed prosthetic eye is much faster. The current hand-painted process involves several steps in the manufacturing process and takes around six weeks to complete. With a printed prosthesis, the manufacturing time is cut in half. The patient has their eye scanned, and the software maps out a 3D model of their eye socket for the printer. It also scans their good eye, to ensure a precise match. The files are transferred to the 3D printer in Germany, where it is printed within two and a half hours, and the eye is then sent to Moorfields’ ocularist to finish, polish and fit. The whole process takes just two to three weeks.

Steve said “I’ve needed a prosthetic since I was 20, and I’ve always felt self-conscious about it. When I leave home, I often take a second glance in the mirror, and I’ve not liked what I’ve seen. This new eye looks fantastic and, being based on 3D digital printing technology, it’s only going to be better and better.”

Professor Mandeep Sagoo, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields and Professor of Ophthalmology at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital UCL and Institute of Ophthalmology, added: “We are excited about the potential for this fully digital prosthetic eye. We hope the forthcoming clinical trial will provide us with robust evidence about the value of this new technology, showing what a difference it makes for patients. It clearly has the potential to reduce waiting lists.”

The project has been supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre, and by Moorfields Eye Charity through the generous philanthropy of the Drayson Foundation.