Researchers from Northumbria University in the UK and Boğaziçi University in Turkey have collaborated to develop contact lenses with embedded sensors that can measure the pressure inside the eye. These sensors gather information about intraocular pressure (IOP), which is crucial for diagnosing 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 due to increased IOP caused by fluid build-up in the front part of the eye. The problem with glaucoma is that it develops slowly over time, causing irreparable harm before any vision loss occurs. By the time it is detected during routine eye tests, the damage may already be done.
However, the development of these innovative contact lenses, known as GlakoLens, could change the game. The lenses detect fluctuations in IOP and wirelessly transmit the data to a wearable electronic readout system. This system collects, stores, and processes the data, which is then evaluated by an ophthalmologist.
Compared to conventional eye exams, GlakoLens offers several advantages. It allows for easier and more accurate IOP measurements over a longer period of time. According to Hamdi Torun, the corresponding author of the study, monitoring IOP continuously or at regular intervals throughout the day provides valuable insights into the health of patients’ eyes.
Traditional methods of measuring IOP involve visiting a clinic for a single measurement, which can be misleading due to natural variations. If a variation is detected, further investigation is required, often involving hospitalization for a whole day and repeated measurements using a technique called Goldmann applanation tonometry (GAT). In contrast, GlakoLens allows patients to go about their day normally while their IOP measurements are recorded and sent to a doctor for analysis.
The researchers conducted tests 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, with measurements from the right eye (without the lens) matching those taken by the device.
Further experiments will be conducted using larger groups of healthy individuals to assess the accuracy and reliability of the sensor. The researchers also plan to enhance the comfort and non-invasiveness of the contact 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) developed 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 to measure IOP on glaucoma patients. However, GlakoLens stands out due to its electrically passive sensor and soft contact lens, ensuring greater comfort for wearers.
In addition to diagnosing glaucoma, the researchers believe that their lenses could be used to detect other health conditions by measuring molecules such as glucose and lactic acid present in the eye.
The study was published in the journal Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, and the lenses are expected to be commercially available through the spin-off company GlakoLens.
Source: Northumbria University