Australian researchers have contributed to a new paper offering one of the most comprehensive reviews into the future of contact lenses, with predictions the medical device will extend beyond refractive correction to detect disease, deliver drugs, and incorporate microelectronics to enhance vision in real time.
The paper titled: ‘Contact Lens Technologies of the Future’ has featured in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, the peer review journal of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), and will form part of its Contact Lens Evidence-based Academic Reports (CLEAR) series.
It’s been led by one of the world’s foremost contact lens authorities Dr Lyndon Jones, director of the Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE), joined by 13 co-authors including Australian-based Professor Mark Willcox (UNSW), Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg (UNSW and BHVI) and Dr Alex Hui (UNSW).
“There are a range of diverse technologies that are shaping the future of contact lenses, in some cases already showing their potential in late-stage development initiatives and even commercially-available products,” Jones said.
“Novel biomaterials, nanotechnology progress, unique optical designs, biosensing discoveries, antibacterial agents and even battery miniaturisation and power transfer are coalescing like never before. The next several years will see incredible advancements and growth for an expanded contact lens category.”
The paper explores several areas in which innovations are anticipated to make an impact.
For example, the authors expect the presence of biomarkers in the tear film will give rise to diagnostic contact lenses to help detect and monitor systemic and ocular diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and dry eye disease. Integrated circuit progress may give rise to in-lens intraocular pressure monitoring for glaucoma and even retinal vasculature imaging for early detection of diseases such as hypertension, stroke and diabetes.
For ocular disease treatment and management, contact lenses are offering benefits in terms of fluid dynamics, materials science and microelectronics.
“Dehydration-resistant materials combined with electro-osmotic flow and reactive oxygen species-scavenging materials – when integrated into lenses – could offer alternative dry eye disease therapies,” the authors noted
“Liquid crystal cells could replicate the functionality of the pupil and iris arrangement, autonomously filtering incoming light to overcome physiological defects. Embedded, tuneable spectral filtering has the potential to mitigate colour vision deficiencies.”
According to the paper, drug delivering contact lenses may offer more accurate dosing versus traditional eye drops, increasing the residence time of a drug on the ocular surface with less exposure to elements such as blinking and non-productive conjunctival absorption, reducing the many known side effects of drugs.
“Delivery might come from in vitro uptake and release, incorporation of drug-containing nanoparticles into contact lens materials during the manufacturing process, and even molecular imprinting to imbue polymers with memory characteristics that aid dispensation,” the authors wrote.
“These techniques and related advancements will open up opportunities for contact lenses as theranostics, the multi-disciplinary medical field that combines therapeutics and diagnostics. Uniting sensing technology and microfabrication, theranostic lenses would release appropriate therapeutics based on continuous monitoring inputs, replacing more invasive procedures.”
While ‘smart contact lenses’ have become associated with on-eye head-up displays, the authors write that optical enhancements could go further.
They stated that customised optics could address aberrated eyes, with the front surface of a lens shaped to reduce measured aberrations based on each person’s unique corneal shape. Embedded microelectronics might also constantly monitor corneal gaze direction, controlling optical elements to address presbyopia in real time.
“And optical and digital display discoveries hold the potential for assisting people who suffer from low vision – and then extend to the general population to replace or supplement traditional screens,” the researchers said.
The paper can be found here.