Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affect around three million people in America and around 64 million across the globe and is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. One of the best weapons against it in recent years has been implants known as aqueous shunts or glaucoma drainage devices. Researchers at Purdue have invented a smart drainage system that improves on those on the market through magnetic vibrations.
Glaucoma surgery will generally try to keep fluids moving to the eye through a surgically created drainage system. However, these devices must also face the rigors of the body—microorganisms build up on the devices, making many inoperable within five years of insertion.
The solution? For the Purdue scientists, it’s magnets.
The new glaucoma drainage device has microactuators that vibrate any time a magnetic field is introduced nearby. Similar to a car’s window wipers, these tiny actuators shake loose any bio-organic material that has built up on the devices. The magnetic fields come from outside the body, delivered by doctors.
“We can introduce the magnetic field from outside the body at any time to essentially give the device a refresh,” says Hyowon “Hugh” Lee, an assistant professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, in a press statement. “Our on-demand technology allows for a more reliable, safe, and effective implant for treating glaucoma.”
Lee’s device, built with associate professor Arezoo Ardekani and Simon John of the Jackson Laboratory, can also vary its flow resistance. That variation allows for glaucoma patients to receive more customized care, allowing their glaucoma to be treated at whatever severity it currently stands.
Earlier this year, doctors 3D-printed a human cornea. In 2017, the FDA approved gene therapy for an inheritable form of blindness. Tiny magnets were all that was needed to make eye treatment truly futuristic.