iFixPen to revolutionise the treatment of corneal ulcers

Researchers at the Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney, NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service and the University of Wollongong are revolutionising the treatment of corneal ulcers with the development of a new iFixPen. Led by Professor Gerard Sutton, the iFixPen is an innovative delivery system for a specially designed “ink” that can treat corneal ulcers by promoting wound healing.

Corneal ulcers are predominantly caused by bacterial infection, which causes an open wound on the front of the eye. These ulcers can become serious and cause vision loss or blindness and early treatment is essential (1). While contact lens wearers are more prone to corneal ulcers, ulcers can also occur as a result of a fungal or viral infection, or injury or trauma (1). Currently the most common form of treatment is topical antibiotic, applied to the affected area (1).

A similar device has been used to treat knee cartilage damage as a result of arthritis, the iFixPen is the first of its kind to be developed to treat injuries or diseases of the eye. The project may still be in the early stages of development, but it is already being recognised, with the team awarded nearly $50,000 in funding from the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium’s “Big Idea” Award in June this year. “It has captured the imagination of many people…and is actually our second innovation award. We were runners-up in the Innovation Competition within the Local Area Health District as well,” said Professor Gerard Sutton. “It was great to get the award for the whole team…[as] this is very much a team achievement.”

The injection of seed funding ensures the future of the corneal iFixPen looks bright, with the first prototype available for use in 2019. The project also highlights the importance of strong collaboration and partnership, which brings research, technology and innovation to the forefront of ophthalmic practice in the region.

“The iFixPen project is one of the cornerstone projects of the Australian Corneal Bioengineering Centre which has been established on the Sydney Eye Hospital Campus. It was set up to foster the development of corneal bioengineered products to treat corneal disease and makes use of the unique synergies of having the Save Sight Institute, Sydney Eye Hospital, The Lions NSW Eye Bank and The Australian Ocular Biobank in the same location. We are also collaborating with Professor Gordon Wallace from Wollongong University’s Intelligent Polymer Institute,” said Professor Gerard Sutton.

iFixPen researchers receive their Big Idea award for their idea to treat corneal ulcers.
[L to R] Professor Gerard Sutton, Dr Jingjing You, Dr Simon Cooper, PhD student Hannah Frazer and Dr Li Wen. ©The University of Sydney

(1) Vision Eye Institute. Corneal Ulcer. 2016. Available at: http://www.visioneyeinstitute.com.au/cornea/corneal-ulcer/ [Accessed 12 July 2017]