Tools from Belgian 3D printing specialist used in first whole eye transplant

Belgian tech company Materialise has contributed to the first ever successful whole eye transplant, the company announced on Friday. The firm created a virtual 3D plan for the surgery and 3D printed various medical devices tailored to the donor and the patient.

Materialise says its technologies allowed the surgical team at the NYU Langone Health medical centre in New York to perform the operation more quickly and accurately. It designed a virtual 3D model based on CT scans. “Surgeons could thus prepare the operation virtually and visualise different scenarios,” said spokesperson Kristof Sehmke. 

Multiple cutting instruments were also 3D printed for use in the operation, which were fully customised for the donor and the patient. “Those cutting tools ensured that the bone fragments could be cut out faster and extremely precisely, like a jigsaw piece,” said Sehmke. 

Signs of health

The patient was a 46-year-old man from Arkansas who suffered severe facial burns and lost his left eye while working on a high-voltage power line. The surgery included transplanting the entire left eye and a portion of the face from a single donor. Carried out in May, the procedure lasted 21 hours and involved a team of more than 140 healthcare staff. 

Corneal transplants are relatively common, NYU Langone Health said in a press release, but successful whole-eye transplants to restore vision have not been possible due to the complex nature of the eye and the challenges associated with nerve regeneration, immune rejection and retinal blood flow. While it is not yet known whether the patient will regain his sight, the transplanted eye has shown signs of health including direct blood flow to the retina.

Headquartered in Leuven, Materialise is one of the oldest 3D printing companies in the world. The company prints various products for hospitals in Belgium and internationally.


#FlandersNewsService | Dr Eduardo Rodriguez operates on Aaron James in the first whole-eye and partial face transplant at NYU Langone Health in New York © JOE CARROTTA / NYU LANGONE HEALTH / AFP

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