More than meets the eye
What the future of contact lenses might hold
07 June 2019
Hold a contact lens to the light and imagine its future: what possibilities are contained within the world’s smallest crystal ball?
The contact lens began as a glimmer in the multifaceted mind of Leonardo da Vinci in the 1500s. Then, before the turn of the 20th century, a German ophthalmologist crafted a lens from glass that covered the entire front surface of the eye. Considering the divergence between the latest silicone hydrogel lenses of today and their glass-blown ancestors, it is difficult to predict whether the contact lenses of the future will bear anything more than a fleeting family resemblance. Manufacturers are continually refining the materials that contact lenses are made from to boost wearer comfort, while the range of applications that contact lenses are applied to is extending beyond vision correction alone.
Here are three innovative contact lens developments to follow.
1. Drug delivery
Using a technique that is similar to a tiny game of Tetris, researchers from China Pharmaceutical University and Southeast University developed a contact lens that
changes colour as medication is released into the eye. The lens is loaded with the glaucoma medication, timolol, through molecular imprinting which involves creating cavities within the lens that match the size and shape of a specific compound. As the lens is exposed to tears, the medication is released into the eye and the architecture of the lens alters – prompting a colour change.
2. Measuring IOP
Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital have conducted a small study with a contact lens that is capable of measuring intraocular pressure (IOP). The contact lens contains a pressure sensor that detects IOP changes and then transmits them wirelessly to a portable external controller the size of a mobile phone. The soft silicone hydrogel device was found to accurately measure changes in IOP with little discomfort to the patient in a small clinical trial involving 12 volunteers.
3. Combating colour blindness
A contact lens saturated with dye has been developed by University of Birmingham researchers to assist those with red-green colour blindness. Scientists used a non-toxic dye derived from rhodamine to stain inexpensive soft commercial contact lenses. Researchers found that the dye blocks the band that lies between the red and green wavelengths, enabling better differentiation between red and green colours.
Other articles in this series
- A profile with CooperVision's country manger of the UK and Ireland, Debbie Olive
- The ABC of contact lenses: Katherine Franklin looks at the range of contact lens options available for patients
- The legal stuff: The AOP's Henry Leonard on understanding sale and supply rules
- A team approach to delivering contact lens care: Gillian Bruce on applying the key elements of a contact lens 'teach' in six steps
- Fact from fiction: OT's Ceri Smith-Jaynes discusses tackling common assumptions about contact lens wear
- Contact lens solutions: Gillian Bruce provides a guide to using the right solution and the necessary cautions
- Patient outcomes: Katherine Franklin discusses scenarios where patients can benefit from contact lens wear.
Image credit: Getty