Next Big Futures: A 3d printed prosthesis made of organics is set to revolutionise the way we see and interact with prosthetic eyes.
The eye is the first piece of prosthetic that can be designed to be completely organic.
It can be printed out, molded into shape, and made to fit on to the face, without needing to be built or repaired.
The idea behind the prosthetic is to make it easier to fix a broken or missing eye.
A person wearing an eye that is 3D-printed could fix it with a pair of screws and glue, while a person wearing the eye that has been implanted with an artificial retina would need to remove the eye using a tube or syringe.
But the idea has been controversial, with some saying that a 3D printable eye would be more dangerous than one made from glass, and would not be suitable for long-term use.
“It is not really clear how many people would want to use this technology, because it is a very new technology,” Dr Chris Brown, a professor at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Optical Sciences, told Next BigFuture.
“The technology is promising, but the real question is, are there enough people who want to have their own 3D printing implants and use it for long term?”
The prosthetic uses a mixture of organic material and polymer to make the prosthesis.
The plastic and organic material in the prostheses is then bonded together using a chemical process.
“We have to take care of the plastic,” Dr Brown said.
“But you have to be careful, you don’t want to get into any contamination.
And we are making sure that the polymer doesn’t get contaminated by the chemical reaction.”
The material that is bonded to the prosthetics eye is a mixture called polyethylene glycol.
It is a material that has a lot of properties that make it suitable for use in a prosthetic, including flexibility and resistance to abrasion.
“Polyethylene is a fairly simple polymer, it has a high viscosity and it is easy to shape,” Dr Dan Hulshof, a materials science and engineering researcher at the university, said.
“It is a good candidate to make prosthetic lenses, because polyethyline can be used to form a lens shape.”
Dr Brown said the technology was being developed by the University’s Department for Materials Sciences, where he is working on the first 3D printer made from polyethylenimine, which he described as a “very promising material”.
“The material is not quite ready for commercial use yet, but it is promising,” he said.
The researchers have already demonstrated a way to make a prosthesis with a lens made from organic material, and have also demonstrated the possibility of creating prosthetic lens from biodegradable plastics.
But Dr Brown cautioned that he was still unsure of how much demand there would be for prosthetic glasses that were made from materials that are biodegradeable.
“I think that we are very far away from that, but we will see,” he added.
But if the researchers are successful, they could make prostheses for use by the elderly, children and people with disabilities.
“There are some limitations to that, because the material can be very flexible, but there is also the problem of having a lens that can fit over the face,” Dr Hulhof said.
It is unclear whether a 3d-printed prosthetic could replace the need for glasses, and Dr Brown did not want to suggest that prosthetic use would disappear.
“That is something that is very far from being solved, but if we can solve that, I think we could have a really important technology to give to the elderly,” he told Next BetsFuture.