Research

Funding for device to revolutionise corneal ulcer treatment

The iFix corneal pen releases a form of bioink directly onto the eye to help corneal cell regenerate and create a biological barrier to ongoing damage, including infection. One of the device’s inventors, Professor Gerard Sutton from the Save Sight Institute (SSI) said the concept began around two years ago when the Lions NSW Eye Bank was researching new ways to keep corneas healthy and alive.“We identified this product that could actually get the cornea to grow their cells back whilst they were in the storage medium, and we extrapolated that this could be used potentially clinically,” he said.{{quote-A:R-W:400-I:2-Q:“We are also hoping that within the next 5–10 years, we will be able to develop a 3D bioengineered cornea.”-who: Gerard Sutton, SSI}}“Wollongong University, who are our partners in the collaboration had developed a bio pen for treating osteoarthiritis in the knee, so we adopted that concept.”The device is able to seal eye wounds to treat corneal ulceration, promote active healing of the wound site and reduce scarring, and cal also have antibiotics and st cells added. Aside from being used to treat patients with corneal ulcers and perforations, Sutton also suggested it could be used after PRK laser eye surgery.“At the moment when you laser people’s corneas on the surface, you need to wait four days for it to heal. They take tablets and drops, but it’s still very painful and they have poor vision during this time, so we see this as a potential application there as well,” Sutton explained.The most recent round of funding for the iFix Syst was from the NSW State Government’s Medical Devices Fund, however it has also received support after winning the inaugural Sydney Research innovation challenge – The Big Idea – as well as The Innovation Challenge from South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.“Winning these two innovation grants last year gave us two things – credibility when we were applying for other grants and the self-belief that we had a great idea worth developing,” Sutton said.“The iFix pen is one part of an overall Corneal Bioengineering Program and, with the support from The Big Idea, The Innovation Challenge and the Medical Devices Fund, we are also hoping that within the next 5–10 years, we will be able to develop a 3D bioengineered cornea.”Phase I human clinical trials are expected to start next, and should they prove successful, the device could be commercialised within 3–5 years.University of Wollongong ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science director, Professor Gordon Wallace, said he was confident the funding and further collaboration would facilitate the translation of research into a commercial product.“We have partnered with the NSW Lions Eye Bank led by Professor Gerard Sutton and the University of Sydney’s Corneal Bioengineering Group to bring together the variety of skills needed to tackle this challenging area practically and successfully,” Professor Wallace said.“We believe the advancent of this technology through the Medical Devices Fund will have a significant impact on reducing corneal blindness in Australia and around the world.”Around 55,000 Australians present to hospitals with corneal ulcerations each year.