Science

Could 3D-printed bionic eyes let blind people see again?

The prototype is a long way away from being used in humans but scientists have hope.

Scientists have designed a 3D-printed “bionic” eye they claim could help restore sight in blind people.

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota in the US says it has, for the first time, created a prototype eye with built-in light receptors.

Dr Michael McAlpine, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university, said: “Bionic eyes are usually thought of as science fiction, but now we are closer than ever using a multi-material 3D printer.”

The light receptors, or photodiodes, are made up of semiconducting polymer materials and convert light into electricity.

They are fitted on a hemispherical glass dome that makes up the structure of the eye, which is coated with a base ink made up of silver particles.

According to the team, it takes about an hour to print the eye.

Bionic eye in the making.
(University of Minnesota/YouTube)

The prototype is a long way away from being used in humans but Dr McAlpine said the team was “surprised” by the “25% efficiency in converting the light into electricity”.

He added: “We have a long way to go to routinely print active electronics reliably, but our 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities.”

Dr McAlpine said the next steps are to create a prototype with more efficient light receptors and made using softer material that is comfortable for the human eye.

The research is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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