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Special Contacts Zero In On Problems In Your Eyes

New contact lens technology to help diagnose and monitor eye problems may soon be ready for clinical trials.

New technology is opening the door for better monitoring of your body, including the eyes. Researchers  have developed soft contact lenses that can diagnose and monitor underlying ocular health conditions like glaucoma.

Scientists from Purdue University and the Indiana School of Medicine have developed ultra thin, stretchable biosensors, 10 times thinner than regular contacts, to fit over contacts using wet adhesive bonding. The biosensors record the visual pathway from the retina to the brain to diagnose eye diseases.

The conventional electrophysiological testis painful and places a metal plate directly on the cornea.

contact lens
Credit Courtesy of Purdue University

This got Chi Hwan Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering at Purdue, thinking.

"Oh my god, this is 2020. I mean this is just a metal plate. They put it on and it is so painful you have to use drops with anesthesia," says Lee.

Credit Purdue University
Purdue Chemical Engineer Bryan Boudouris, Chi Hwan Lee, assistant professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering and Pete Kollbaum of the IU School of Medicine wanted to find a less invasive form of measuring the visual pathway from the retina to the brain and developed a very thin device that fits over a conventional contact lens.

He and Purdue chemical engineer Bryan Boudouris and Pete Kollbaum from IU's Medical School came up with the design, which will soon go to clinical trials. It will do the same test, but instead of using a metal plate, it uses a thin lens that fits over a regular contact. A small wire is attached.

"This technology will allow doctors and scientists to better understand spontaneous retinal activity with significantly improved accuracy, reliability and user comfort," says Pete Kollbaum, director of the Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research and an associate professor of optometry at Indiana University, who is leading clinical trials.

The Purdue device is not like the smart contact lenses made by Google in 2014 that were supposed to monitor glucose levels. Lee says those were plastic and irritated the eye. Google scrapped the idea in 2018.

Eventually the Purdue lenses could be used to monitor the eye pressure of glaucoma patients at night long-term. It may also be used for pets.

According to Lee and IU's medical doctor, "This is a billion dollar idea. This is a huge impact in the field of glaucoma."

His team's work is published in Nature Communications. The technology is available for licensing.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.