Glaucoma typically occurs when a blockage in the eye's drainage channels causes aqueous humor fluid to accumulate within the eye faster than it can drain out. This increases intraocular pressure, which can in turn damage the optic nerve, causing blindness. A new implant, however, may be particularly effective at reducing that pressure.

There are already a number of implants that lessen intraocular pressure by helping to drain fluid from the eye. Unfortunately, according to Indiana's Purdue University, approximately half of those devices stop working within five years of implantation. This is because films of microorganisms grow inside of them, blocking their drainage channels.

Led by Asst. Prof. Hyowon "Hugh" Lee, a Purdue team created a proof-of-concept implant that gets around this problem. Its drainage tube contains tiny magnetic microactuators (made of nickel) which vibrate when exposed to a magnetic field. These vibrations shake loose any biomaterials that have built up within the tube, allowing them to be flushed out along with the fluid.

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

The university is now seeking partners to help commercialize the technology.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Microsystems and Nanoengineering.