Smart drainage device could help save sight of people with glaucoma

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new smart drainage device that overcomes biofouling to help patients with glaucoma try to save their eyesight.

According to RNIB, glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye conditions that cause permanent sight loss by damaging the optic nerve. The condition can be caused by raised eye pressure or a weakness in the optic nerve.

Medications or surgical implants are the only methods of treating glaucoma, both of which offer varying degrees of success in helping to improve sight and to relieve pressure build-up inside the eye.

Only half of current implantable glaucoma devices are still operational after five years because microorganisms accumulate on the device during and after implantation.

“We created a new drainage device that combats this problem of build-up by using advances in microtechnology,” said Hyowon “Hugh” Lee, an assistant professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and a researcher at the Birck Nanotechnology Center, who led the research team. “It is able to clear itself of harmful bio-build-up. This is a giant leap toward personalised medicine.”

Glaucoma drainage device is built with microactuators that vibrate when a magnetic field is introduced. (Image: Hyowon Lee)

The Purdue glaucoma drainage device is built with microactuators that vibrate when a magnetic field is introduced. The vibrations shake loose the biomaterials that have built up in the tube.

“We can introduce the magnetic field from outside the body at any time to essentially give the device a refresh,” Lee said. “Our on-demand technology allows for a more reliable, safe and effective implant for treating glaucoma.”

The Purdue technology, published in Microsystems and Nanoengineering, can also vary flow resistance, which allows the drainage technology to customise treatment for each patient at different stages of glaucoma with varying degrees of pressure build-up inside the eye.

Other members of the Purdue research team include Arezoo Ardekani, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Simon John from the Jackson Laboratory.

The researchers are now working with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialisation to patent the technology. They are also looking for partners to license it.