Stephen Bell

1. Tell us about your journey into ophthalmology.

My journey into ophthalmology happened by chance. I was introduced by a friend to a gentleman who was interested in developing an artificial eye using a 3D printer. I was having a career pivot and was looking at suitable applications to best utilise the capabilities of additive manufacturing, which is better known as 3D printing. This is becoming an easily accessible method to produce 3D objects. Artificial eyes seemed a perfect choice as this medical device is very bespoke.

At a 3D printing conference in Coventry, we attended a stand which introduced us to the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and we found out about the inaugural i4iconnect funding program. NIHR gave us the seed funding to support our first phase research and development program which was hosted by the Ocular prosthetics department at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

In this image Stephen Bell is pointing at a flow chart on the wall during one of our Patient and public involvement (PPI) focus groups.

2. What is your current research about?

In my role as honorary research fellow in Ocular Prosthetics my initial research was about understanding the current ocularists role. An ocularist is someone who specialises in making and fitting of ocular prostheses for people who have lost an eye or eyes due to trauma or illness. I studied the current design and manufacturing techniques, which typically includes taking an impression of the eye socket, shaping a plastic shell, painting the iris and then fitting the ocular prostheses.

In parallel to these studies I worked on developing a digital end-to-end design and manufacturing process known as “Click2Print” artificial eyes. We have conducted a motility study on a cohort of patients to measure the movement of their artificial eye. These studies have helped us better understand the fit and function of the artificial eye and incremental improvements are expected with a digitally designed prosthetic pathway. The next phase of the research and development project has begun. The project will incorporate a phase I/II device trial to prove the hypotheses that a digital artificial eye is non-inferior to an analogue artificial eye.

I this image someone is holding ocular prosthetics at a PPI focus group. There are papers on the desk around the hands holding up the ocular prosthetics.

3. How has your work been supported by the NIHR?

Our initial visit to the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement team was really beneficial, as our soon-to-be programme manager liked our presentation pitch, however advised us that we were lacking a patient and public involvement (PPI) component.

PPI was a new topic to me but it is the keystone to carrying out effective research . Once we understood we began to involve more patient and carer feedback in the design. The BRC team was extremely helpful at guiding us and supporting us to involve patients in the research and the project is much better because of it.

4. What do you think the future holds for ophthalmology?

Digital technology is here to stay and will help benefit patient treatment. I am grateful for the opportunity to work on such an amazing project that will see the supply of quality digital ocular prosthetics to everyone in the world. We are very fortunate to have a wonderful NHS service in the UK that provides quality ocular prosthetics to over 70,000 patients. Let’s innovate and extend that service to everyone in the world who needs an ocular prosthetic.