'I'm so happy': World first as British engineer gets 3D-printed eye at London hospital

'When I see it, I think to myself this is where I want to be,' Mr Verze said

  • Words by ITV News Science Producer Philip Sime

There was no fanfare, there were no celebrations. But, shortly after midday in the corridors of Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, a little bit of history was made. ITV News was given exclusive access as NHS patient, Steve Verze, emerged from the clinic as the first person in the world to have a 3D-printed eye. Steve, an engineer in his 40s, lost his left eye when he was a child and has needed a prosthetic replacement since he was 20.

Mr Verze has needed a prosthetic replacement for more than 20 years. Credit: ITV News

He spent years feeling self-conscious but today his confidence was restored. It’s the way that light travels through these new, 3D-printed eyes which makes them look more natural than prosthetic eyes, onto which the iris is currently hand-painted.

Current prosthetics have the iris hand-painted onto a black disc embedded in the eye, preventing light from passing the full depth of the eye

“Having lived with this for such a long time, the closer you get to the real thing makes me feel more and more confident,” Steve Verze told ITV News.

“You don’t want people to notice. You want people to walk past you and not even imagine that there was something artificial there and this is it. I’m so happy,” he added.

For the team behind this world-first, today was the culmination of five years of hard work. “It is a big deal. This is new technology.

"Nothing has really changed in the field of ocular prosthetics since the Second World War. The hand-painting of prosthetics has been fairly constant since then,” Professor Mandeep Sagoo, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital told ITV News.

Professor Mandeep Sagoo explains how the process works

The current method for producing a prosthetic eye takes around six weeks and sees patients undergo a two-hour session to mould their eye socket.

But this new 3D-printed method, which was realised at Moorfields today, involves the use of existing scanning technology to create a map of the patient’s eye socket. This data is then sent to a specialist firm in Germany, where a prosthetic eye is created using a 3D printer. It cuts the whole process from six weeks to just two or three.

A clinical trial will now get underway at Moorfields, with hopes of cutting the production time even further. “We think initially that rather than many months, we could reduce it to weeks. And the potential is there that we could reduce it to days after that,” said Prof Sagoo.

A 3D printed eye is more realistic than a traditional acrylic prosthetic eye. Credit: ITV News

For Steve, his new, 3D-printed eye has changed his life. “Having the mimicry get better and better, I feel more normal. I pick up sports now that I would never have thought of as a young man,” he said.