Bio-mimicry Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
MOHINDER M. MERCHEA, OD, PH.D, MBA, FAAO, FBCLA
Bio-inspiration (bio-mimicry) is a scientific discipline that examines and applies nature's best systems and designs to create and improve products that target specific environmental, mechanical, medical, or consumer needs.
Natural systems and designs optimized over millions of years offer us an opportunity to learn what works, and to imitate those designs and processes in development of innovative products for health care. Not only can these designs be a good starting point for answers to scientific and technical problems,1 but one of the perceived benefits of bio-inspired products is that they work in conjunction with the body, rather than interfering with it or dominating it.2 Bio-inspiration takes us in new directions capable of providing breakthrough ideas to meet the needs of our patients.
Nature and the human body are wonderful databases of ideas and concepts from which to borrow. Bio-inspired materials and treatments are already making their way into all segments of health care, including eye care. As we learn more about the ocular environment, the eye, tear film, and the eyelids, and how these natural structures maintain themselves, our eye health scientists look for more ways to take advantage of the eye's synergistic mechanisms in developing ophthalmic products.
Understanding the tear film components and physiology can inspire the invention of new eye drops that offer beneficial solutions to our patients. For example, there are proteins, lipids, and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as hyaluronan in the tear film that play a significant role in protecting and lubricating the cornea and conjunctiva. Proteins such as lysozyme and lactoferrin naturally protect the eye against infections based on their anti-microbial attributes. Lipocalin is another tear film protein that binds to lipids and is known to prevent desiccation of the corneal surface. Eye health scientists could develop technologies that mimic the eye in protecting the structure and function of lysozyme or lipocalin and this could preserve homeostasis, which is an important consideration in bio-inspiration. Another example of bio-inspiration in the ophthalmic field is the accommodating intraocular lens that mimics the natural ability of the crystalline lens to change its shape. Or imagine a contact lens surface with microvilli like the cornea to hold the tear film on its surface to improve wettability and reduce dryness symptoms.
Such approaches can be used to develop innovative ophthalmic products such as contact lenses and lens care solutions targeted at meeting patient needs beyond the traditional functional requirements of correcting refractive error or disinfecting lenses. We are constantly searching for ways to bring forth new product designs and looking to our natural selves as a model for improvements/enhancements. That may be just what our patients are looking for as well.
Dr. Merchea is the Director, Medical Afairs - Bausch + Lomb Vision Care, North America. The author would like to thank Susan Burke, Ph.D., Principal Scientist, Bausch + Lomb Vision Care R&D, and Srini Venkatesh, Ph.D, Senior Director, Bausch + Lomb, Vision Care R&D for their contributions to this article.
1. Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. Available at: www.iop.org.EJ/journal/bio-insp.
2. Benyus J. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. 2002.