Researchers from Northumbria University in the UK and Boğaziçi University in Turkey have developed contact lenses with embedded sensors that can measure the pressure inside the eye. These lenses, known as GlakoLens, aim to aid in the early diagnosis of glaucoma, a condition that can lead to irreversible vision loss if left untreated.
Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve connecting the eye to the brain is damaged by increased intraocular pressure (IOP), usually caused by fluid build-up in the front part of the eye. Unfortunately, glaucoma often develops slowly over time, causing irreparable harm before any vision loss is noticed. By the time it is detected during routine eye tests, the damage may already be done.
However, the collaboration between researchers from Northumbria University and Boğaziçi University has led to a breakthrough. They have successfully developed contact lenses that can detect fluctuations in IOP and diagnose glaucoma. The lenses contain an electrically passive sensor made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and are disposable. The data collected by the lenses is wirelessly transmitted to a wearable electronic readout system, which then processes the information and sends it to an ophthalmologist for evaluation.
One of the advantages of using GlakoLens is that it allows for easier and more accurate IOP measurements over a longer period of time compared to conventional eye exams. Monitoring IOP fluctuations throughout the day provides valuable insights into the health of patients’ eyes. Traditional methods involve single measurements at a clinic, which can be misleading due to natural variations in IOP. If a variation is detected, further investigation is required, often involving hospitalization and repeated measurements using a technique called Goldmann applanation tonometry (GAT).
The contact lenses developed by the researchers offer a less invasive alternative. Once placed in the eye, patients can go about their day as usual while their IOP measurements are continuously recorded. After the 24-hour testing period, the data is analyzed by a doctor.
The researchers conducted trials on six healthy volunteers who intentionally increased their IOP by drinking water and lying flat. The contact lenses accurately responded to the effects of water loading, and the measurements from the lens-wearing left eye matched those taken by the device in the right eye.
Further experiments will be conducted using larger cohorts of healthy individuals to assess the accuracy and reliability of the contact lens sensors. The researchers also plan to optimize the comfort and non-invasiveness of the lenses in future iterations.
It’s worth noting that GlakoLens is not the first glaucoma-detecting contact lens. In previous studies, researchers from South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) tested a lens that monitored glaucoma and released medication into the eye as needed. Another California-based startup trialed miLens, a ring placed in the eye that physically measured IOP. However, GlakoLens stands out due to its electrically passive sensor and soft contact lens, ensuring wearer comfort.
Aside from diagnosing glaucoma, the researchers believe that their lenses have the potential to detect other health conditions by measuring molecules such as glucose and lactic acid present in the eye.
The study detailing the development of GlakoLens was published in the journal Contact Lens and Anterior Eye. The lenses are expected to be commercially available through the spin-off company GlakoLens.
Source: Northumbria University