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Bio-pen to reduce pain and treat common eye problems

11 December 2019
Sydney academic completes successful animal trial for corneal medical device
Professor Gerard Sutton, Clinical Ophthalmologist and Medical Director of the NSW Eye and Tissue Banks at the Save Sight Institute, is leading research in the treatment of common cornea problems.

Using the iFix system, Dr Gerard Sutton and his team are trialling the use of a pen which delivers a bio-ink to the cornea to facilitate healing, minimise scarring and reduce recovery time.

The research is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the South East Sydney Local Health District and the University of Wollongong.

Bio-Ink is a substance that can be applied to clinical tissues to treat a variety of medical conditions. Its specific qualities depend on the application.

“Our 3D printed ink is customisable and can include both cells and active ingredients such as antibiotics or, more relevant to the developing world anti-fungal medications,” says Professor Sutton.

Bio-pen treats injuries caused by infection and trauma

This innovative system was primarily developed to treat cornea ulcerations, caused as a result of infection, trauma or contact lens misuse.

In Australia, over 55,000 people present in hospital with this common problem to the protective layer of the eye.

In the developing world, corneal ulcerations can result in preventable blindness in hundreds of thousands of people.

Trial proves iFix reduces pain

Professor Sutton and his collaborative team recently completed an animal trial which has been hugely successful.

“The pilot animal study showed that there were no adverse effects from the ink but the most remarkable feature was how it significantly reduced the pain of the treated animals.”

“Whilst our reason for developing the system was to treat corneal ulcers, one of the other applications we foresee will be in one form of laser eye surgery which involves a corneal ulcer and is quite painful.”

“This is a potentially large market,” Professor Sutton adds.

The trial also showed the bio-ink is capable of not only facilitating healing but can also act as a “glue” in perforations of the eye, thus sealing wounds and reducing the chance of infection.

After receiving $1.1 million in funding from the NSW Medical Devices Fund, the team have secured a further $400,000 in NHMRC grant funding for the development of another ink for the system for a related but slightly different application.

The next step for Professor Sutton is a large animal trial.

“For future commercialisation we need to characterise the ink and settle on a definitive source of ingredients,” says Professor Sutton.

“I would estimate that we will do the large animal trial in the first quarter of 2020 and if that is successful, we will start phase one clinical trials in late 2020 or early 2021.

3D bio-engineered cornea on the horizon

Professor Sutton also sees other applications for his iFix bio-ink. The team hope to develop a 3D bio-engineered cornea in the near future.

“We are currently working on two possible structures for a bio-engineered cornea. One of our inks will play a role in the 3D printing of the main substrate and the other in the facilitation of the epithelium (skin) over the corneal surface.”

Professor Sutton’s team at the University of Sydney includes Dr Jing Jing You, Hannah Fraser, Charlie Song, Dr Con Petsoglou and Dr Chris Hodge.

“Nothing of any significance is ever achieved alone and we are fortunate to have developed such strong collaborations with the University of Wollongong’s Intelligent Polymer Institute and the NSW Eye and Tissue Bank," he said.

With 10 million people waiting for a corneal transplant and fifty percent without access to a corneal transplanting service, research like this is essential to reduce preventable blindness in the developing world.

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