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Future Trends in Contact Lenses

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Contact lens technology

Contact lens technology has advanced significantly in the last few decades. But what does the future hold and how might contact lenses be used beyond just vision correction? 

An academic review of emergent contact lens technology has been conducted recently by Eric B Papas PhD of the University of New South Wales. The review synthesised a number of key themes around which recent contact lens patent applications have been concentrated. Those three areas are: (1) Biosensing; (2) Drug Delivery; and (3) Visual Augmentation.

Biosensing


The first and most immediate application of biosensing would be in the initial fitting of the optimal contact lens for wearers. On insertion intelligent contact lenses could collect diagnostic data about your eye dimensionality (size, curvature) and tear film production, and this could then be factored into the most suitable contact lens product for the unique requirements of your eyes.  

Another example of bio-sensing is the detection of Inter-Ocular Pressure (IOP). This concept would be realised by a sensitive silicone contact lens with strain gauges transmitting eye pressure measurements via an antenna to a receiver kept on the wearer around their neck. 

The non-invasive monitoring of vascular activity is also a potential application of contact lens technology. Light emitted from a contact lens and directed towards the conjunctival vessels of your eye could assist in the ongoing capture of oxygenation and pulse rate data. This would take the current wearable technology that is popularised in the health and fitness industry to the next level. 

There are also emergency detection and interventionist applications of biosensing technology. Contact lenses which monitor the vascularity of the retina could detect the early indicators of cardiac events, and possibly trigger audible alerts or notifications to a smartphone to warn the wearer or medical assistance of imminent medical events. This application would necessarily need a very high threshold of consistency and reliability to prevent false-positive reports and the distress that would ensue if a false-alarm was triggered.

Potential also exists to use contact lenses as an alternative to intravenous blood collection for pathology testing. Specialised contact lens designs could alternatively collect tears for analysis of substances contained within the tears themselves. The most exciting application is in the monitoring of glucose levels for diabetic patients, which currently requires regular finger-prick testing. The degree to which tears can replace blood as a reliable substitute medium for glucose monitoring is still yet to be determined, and there are latencies in the passage and presence of glucose from blood to tears which may affect the way that the diagnostics are captured. 


Drug Delivery

There are a number of medicated drops that are used to treat eye conditions. However, as any user of eye drops (even just lubricating eye drops) will appreciate, standard eye drops delivery tends to flood the eye at once but then fail to sustain the benefit over time. Drugs embedded in contact lens materials could overcome this all-or-nothing approach by slowly releasing optimal concentrations of medication throughout contact lens wear, even overnight when the eyes are obviously closed and not accessible for eye drop application. 

Release of drugs from contact lens material could occur through blink activation of pressure activation, although in reality it is still yet to be proven whether wearer activation could be used reliably. Alternative release systems could be electronically stimulated and use the ionic relativities between the drugs and the biochemistry of your eye to facilitate the release.

The one barrier to adoption of contact lens facilitated drug delivery (apart from further research and development) is that often those population groups that would benefit the most from this technology are the elderly, who if not already contact lens wearers may find the relative complexity of contact lenses burdensome versus conventional and more familiar eye drop techniques. 

Visual Augmentation


The last and perhaps most speculated trend about contact lenses is that of visual augmentation or Augmented Reality (AR).  There are two main approaches to deploying this technology. 

The first application of visual augmentation would involve images being generated directly on board the contact lens through light emission directed towards the retina. The downside of this approach is that significant miniaturised electronic circuitry would be required for this localised image generation. 

The second application of visual augmentation would be to use of a plus-powered contact lens to assist the eye in better focussing on a more fully-featured heads-up display which sits off the eye in a similar fashion to Google Glass. 


Source: Contact lens technology to 2020 and beyond: a review of recent patent literature, Eric B Papas PhD, Clinical and Experimental Optometry 2017

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WebContacts Pty Ltd is not offering individual advice on contact lens wear and provides a contact lens replacement service. Always follow your eye care practitioner's advice for the proper use and care of your contact lenses and have your eyes examined regularly. If you experience any pain or discomfort from your contact lenses, discontinue use immediately and consult your eye care practitioner.