Losing an eye is a traumatic event. Sight loss is perhaps the most significant concern, but eye loss also affects a person’s appearance. While artificial eyes can go a long way toward addressing aesthetic concerns, they can’t completely duplicate the appearance of a natural eye. Researchers have worked hard at developing more natural looking eye prosthetics, however, and a recent innovation from the UK takes a huge leap forward in the creation of an eye that both looks and moves like a natural eye.
When it comes to replacing damaged eyes, it is important to clarify a few things. The first is that, as of 2013, there is no such thing as an eye transplant. The eye is a very complex structure and it isn’t possible to replace a damaged eye with a healthy donor eye. It is possible, however, to transplant a cornea, the clear covering of the eye. Some researchers are also experimenting with retinal transplants, though this remains an experimental procedure.
Unfortunately, the best that can be offered to people suffering eye loss is a prosthetic eye, which does not restore its wearer’s vision, but does normalize the wearer’s appearance. While many people are aware of so-called “glass eyes” that could be removed and re-inserted into the eye socket, modern prosthetics are a bit more sophisticated. First, a patient undergoes surgery to permanently insert an ocular implant. Then, an ocularist creates a prosthetic eye that matches, the appearance of the patient’s other eye. The patient inserts the prosthetic eye over the ocular implant, removing it occasionally for cleaning and inspection.
While the technology and artistry of prosthetic eyes and ocular implants has come a long way, one significant difference between prosthetic and natural eyes is pupil constriction and dilation: When a normal eye is exposed to light, the pupil contracts, while low light causes the pupil to dilate. Prosthetic eyes couldn’t duplicate this movement, until now.
Recent news stories report that Dr. Philip Breedon, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University, has created an artificial eye that reacts to light, causing its pupil to expand and contract. This creates an even more realistic-looking prosthetic eye, which can help boost the confidence of its wearers. The prosthetics are still being tested and refined, but if they do eventually come to market, they may be able to significantly increase the quality of life for individuals who wear prosthetic eyes.