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 information gathered by these lenses is then sent to an ophthalmologist for evaluation. The aim of this innovative technology is to enable early diagnosis of glaucoma, a condition that can lead to 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 develops slowly over time, often causing irreparable harm before any vision loss is detected. By the time glaucoma is diagnosed during routine eye tests, significant damage may have already occurred.
However, the collaboration between researchers from Northumbria University and Boğaziçi University has led to the development of contact lenses capable of detecting fluctuations in IOP. These lenses, known as GlakoLens, have been tested on individuals and have shown promising results.
The contact lenses contain an electrically passive sensor embedded in a disposable soft lens made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Data collected by the lenses is wirelessly transmitted to a wearable electronic readout system, which stores and processes the information. The processed data is then evaluated by an ophthalmologist.
One of the major advantages of using GlakoLens is that it allows for easier and more accurate IOP measurements over an extended period of time compared to conventional eye exams. This continuous monitoring provides valuable insights into the health of patients’ eyes.
Hamdi Torun, the corresponding author of the study, explains that traditional methods for measuring IOP involve single measurements taken 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 for repeated measurements using a technique called Goldmann applanation tonometry (GAT). This method requires numbing the eye with drops and using a small cone to touch the cornea to measure pressure. In contrast, GlakoLens allows patients to go about their day as usual while their IOP measurements are recorded and sent to a doctor for analysis after a 24-hour testing period.
The researchers conducted tests on six healthy volunteers, who were asked to drink water and lie flat to intentionally increase their IOP. The contact lenses worn in the left eye collected data, while IOP measurements were taken in the right eye without the lens for comparison. The results showed that the contact lens sensors accurately responded to the effects of increased IOP.
Further experiments involving larger groups of healthy individuals will be conducted to assess the accuracy and reliability of the sensors. 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 to be developed. In previous studies, researchers from South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) tested a lens that monitored glaucoma and released IOP-reducing medication into the eye. 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 offers greater comfort and flexibility due to its electrically passive sensor and soft contact lens design.
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 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