The Future of Eye Care and 3D Printing

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Can you imagine a world where all contact lenses are completely custom to the patient's eye shape and prescription?  Right now most contact lens wearers use mass produced soft lens products, made to fit an average eye shape and an average range of prescriptions.  If you wear contact lenses, and have felt that they never really seemed as clear as your glasses, or as comfortable on your eye as you think they should, this is because you are wearing contact lenses that are mass produced.  You may not have an average prescription or an average eye and cornea shape, but you are expecting a lens that is made for an average person to be perfect for you too.  Custom lenses (be they soft or rigid gas permeable) are a way to enhance vision and comfort, but they still fall short of perfection.  The reason is that our imaging technology available today is not capable of measuring your eye shape to the smallest degree to find a lens that would be a 100% perfect fit.  

An irregular cornea imaged by Bioptigen's next generation OCT via

But perhaps the world of customized perfection isn't as far off as it seems. Researchers at a company called Bioptigen have partnered with physics and mathematics professors at NC State University to design the next generation of ocular imaging (Spectral Domain Optical Coherence Tomography or OCT from here).  Dr. Haider is the mathematics professor working on creating intricate algorithms for OCT imaging to more precisely measure and model the 3D eye.  His inspiration for joining the project?  He was diagnosed with keratoconus and has undergone corneal transplantation and years of specialty contact lens wear.  He knows just how difficult it can be to achieve clear vision when the shape of your eye makes finding a contact lens that properly fits and provides clear optics next to impossible.  Read the entire article here.

With new enhanced OCT imaging of the cornea and sclera, Bioptigen hopes to map the eye so accurately that a 3D image can be made.  These images could find degenerative conditions like keratoconus much earlier in life, in the hopes that medical treatment can be initiated earlier in an effort to prevent the need for corneal transplantation.  When I read this article, I immediately thought about the possibility of a next level use-- can you imagine using an OCT imaging device to create a 3D model of the eye, and then having a contact lens custom designed for that mold with a 3D printer?   Amazingly enough, this idea might not be all that futuristic.  

Already in the glasses industry there are several companies 3D printing custom ophthalmic frames.  These frames are made out of a plastic called polyamide, which in initial reports has some issues with durability and quality. Companies like Protos and MYKITA are moving forward with new and improved printing components to try to make a more robust material, and MYKITA has already partnered with Zeiss (an industry leader in the world of glasses) for a possible future where their custom, 3D printed frames could be measured in person at a doctor's office, and then sent off  to their lab for production.  Protos uses a different model, having consumers just submitting two pictures to make the necessary measurements, but their approach has gotten some negative attention since they are relying on flat 2D images to design a 3D product for someone's face.
MYKITA Mylon ophthalmic collection -- custom 3D printed frames from Germany via
Above and Below: This Protos Eyewear frame pokes fun at its computer-engineered and 3 D printed roots.  They also offer more subdued looks in their collection, but only in black at this time via

Finding products that are personally customized to you is the next wave in eye care, and in medicine as a whole.  We are on the frontier of the next big change in medicine, and it is hard to predict how fast this technology will be our new way of life.  The really exciting concept is that your doctor will soon have technology that can specifically cater to your needs, be that with prescription medications, vitamin supplements, or contact lenses and glasses -- all custom tailored to your size and shape and body and genetics.  Time to embrace your individuality.

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