• Andra Striowski

DIGITEYES: 3D Printing for Eye Care in Canada

Part 1: WHY should we adopt 3d printing for ocular prosthetics? As an ocularist I am always interested in exploring ways to improve how I deliver my services to patients. People are often surprised to see that we are still using basically the same tools and techniques since our profession was established, over 70 years ago. While our labs have changed somewhat, and we now have better equipment for curing the plastic more quickly and with less porosity, the basic manual techniques of painting and shaping the eyes have stayed the same for many decades. While the current old-school methods do have a certain quaint charm, surely computers could help us do this work even better? One big game-changer on the horizon will come with the widespread integration of scanning, digital modelling, and 3d printing into our workflow. Modern light scanners and high resolution 3d printers are becoming more affordable for small labs like ours, though the expense is still significant. Before many of us will be ready to make this leap we will have to be convinced that these tools could offer a real advantage to us and, more importantly, to our patients. Personally, I always approach the hype that surrounds new technologies cautiously. 3d printing really excites people’s imaginations - which is great! But it can also lead to splashy headlines that oversell what is actually being done. News stories about 3d printed human organs tend to be guilty of this. Only later in the article is it revealed that these printed organs are not exactly functional. In any case, 3d printing is a technology that holds a lot of promise, even if a lot of its revolutionary potential is not there yet. At this stage we are well positioned to begin asking what, if anything, we would like to see this technology do for us as ocularists and as prosthetic eye wearers. For instance, we might be looking for this technology to speed up the process of making an eye, or make it less invasive for the patient. We might also hope that we could make it easier for patients to access our services over greater distances: perhaps scans could be sent from remote parts of the country to ocularists located in urban centres. Furthermore, I would expect that if the oculoplastic surgeons we work with started using custom printed ocular implants this could make it easier for us to achieve better results with our prosthetics. Perhaps the next integrated implants will be 3d printed? Finally, (though this is little more than a dream at this point) one could imagine that 3d printing could open the doors to new materials with advantageous properties that will surpass what we currently achieve using acrylic. What else? Leave a comment if you’d like to share your ideas about what you would like to see achieved if we were to digitize the process of making prosthetic eyes…

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