CooperVision names FORCE winners

The CooperVision FORCE Student of the Year event brought together finalists from the 2020 and 2021 competitions

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CooperVision has named the winners of its 2020 and 2021 FORCE Student of the Year competitions.

Run annually by CooperVision, the Future Ocular Research Creativity Event (FORCE) brings together students from universities across Europe with the aim of inspiring excellence in research and developing their knowledge base.

The final took place virtually on 11 September, and brought together finalists from both the 2020 competition, which was cancelled last year as a result of the pandemic, and the 2021 final.

The finalists, from eight countries across Europe, presented their research projects related to contact lens and the anterior eye to a panel of four judges.

Ishvinder Bahra and Charis Hedges from Aston University took the 2021 title, while Marika Martena, from the University of Salento in Italy, received the 2020 Student of the Year accolade.

Investigating dry eye

Bahra and Hedges received the recognition for their joint research project on Optimisation of blink exercises within the Blinkful app.

Noting that the need for improved blinking appears to have increased during the pandemic, particularly with symptoms such as mask-associated dry eye, Bahra and Hedges evaluated the Blinkful app, which was developed at Aston University to help with blink exercises. The app can be programmed to notify users to carry out bursts of blinking at intervals through the day.

Using data from 98 users with dry eye symptoms, the pair found that symptoms improved overall with the use of the app, and suggested that the optimum exercise was 15 repeats of blinking, three times per day, while the addition of a forced squeeze did not appear to be beneficial.

The pair concluded the new app could help patients with dry eye disease and be beneficial for contact lens wearers experiencing discomfort. Further research is planned.

Competition judge, Dr Stefan Bandlitz, senior lecturer at Cologne School of Optometry in Germany, commented: “The topic is one we deal with in everyday practice and the study was well-designed and conducted in an impressive way.”

Speaking to OT about winning the FORCE UK competition ahead of the European finals, Hedges said: “Ishvinder and I were truly thrilled when they announced our project as the winner. We believed all the talks were so informative and I learnt a lot by taking part.”

Bahra also shared: “Being able to win the competition, and knowing that all the hard work and effort put into the presentation had been worthwhile, was incredible. It was a fantastic experience being able to network with the board members of CooperVision and the other students from various universities.”

Considering accommodative support

Martena received the 2020 title with her presentation on the Evaluation of the effectiveness of a soft contact lens indicated for accommodative support on the symptoms of eyestrain and on the visual functions of young adults.

The work compared two types of soft contact lenses (Biofinity and Biofinity Energys) in their effect on accommodation, ocular aberrations and subjective performance measures with a 17 question survey designed to explore digital eye strain.

Marika Martena’s project explored ocular aberrations
 In the project, 24 participants wore both lens types for two weeks in a random order. Higher order aberrations were similar for the two lens types, although spherical aberration was more negative with the Biofinity Energys design. Measures of accommodation and subjective scores also favoured this lens type.

Martena concluded that the results support the use of the Biofinity Energys lens in contact lens wearers using digital devices.

Commenting on receiving the title, Martena expressed her thanks, saying, “I didn’t expect this.”

Professor James Wolffsohn, chair of the judges and associate pro-vice chancellor at Aston University, commented on the presentation: “Marika talked to us about the effectiveness of soft contact lenses and eyestrain, which of course, is a really important topic, and one of great interest at the moment.”

The winners of this year’s FORCE competition will present their papers at the Netherlands Contact Lens Congress in Veldhoven in March 2022.

Reflecting on the competition, Wolffsohn recognised the work of all finalists, commenting: “The quality of your work was as good as I see at the top international conferences, so you should be proud of what you have achieved and what you will achieve in the future.”

Fabio Carta, EMEA professional services manager for CooperVison, said: “I am so happy to know that there are people across Europe who have the skills to drive our profession forward through the 21st century. You are truly an inspiration to us.”

Winner of the CooperVision FORCE Student of the Year title in 2019, Juliette Papin, has gone on to secure a permanent position in research and development in the instrument department of Essilor. Commenting on the experience, she said: “It is clear to me that the FORCE competition gave me a fantastic professional boost.”

Papin spoke to OT about her winning research project in 2019.