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. The data collected by these lenses is then sent to an ophthalmologist for evaluation, with the aim of early diagnosis of glaucoma, a condition that can cause irreversible vision loss if left untreated.
Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, is damaged due to increased intraocular pressure (IOP). This pressure is usually caused by a buildup of fluid in the front part of the eye. Unfortunately, glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight” because it develops slowly over time, causing irreparable harm before any vision loss is noticed. By the time glaucoma is detected during routine eye tests, the damage may already be done.
However, this may soon change thanks to the collaboration between researchers from Northumbria University and Boğaziçi University. They have successfully developed contact lenses that can detect fluctuations in IOP and diagnose glaucoma. These lenses have been tested on a group of volunteers and have shown promising results.
The contact lenses, called GlakoLens, contain an electrically passive sensor embedded in a disposable soft lens made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). The data collected by the sensors 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 compared to conventional eye exams. Traditional methods require patients to visit a clinic for a single measurement, which can be misleading due to natural variations in IOP. If a variation is detected, further investigation is needed, which often requires hospitalization for repeated measurements using a technique called Goldmann applanation tonometry (GAT). This process involves numbing the eye with drops and using a small cone to touch the cornea and measure pressure. In contrast, GlakoLens allows patients to go about their day as normal while their IOP measurements are recorded and sent to a doctor for analysis once the 24-hour testing period is complete.
The researchers plan to conduct further experiments using larger groups of healthy individuals to investigate the accuracy and reliability of the sensors. They also aim to optimize 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 to be developed. In previous studies, researchers from South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) tested a contact 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 on glaucoma patients. However, the researchers behind GlakoLens believe their technology has significant potential due to its comfortability and ability to diagnose other health conditions by measuring various molecules 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