More and more companies and scientists are working to equip contact lenses with applications that not so long ago still sounded like science fiction, such as recording videos or the ability to diagnose and even treat diseases. An example of this is Mojo Vision, an American startup that has been improving its prototypes since 2015 and is currently developing an ambitious project of augmented reality lenses that, in addition to correcting your vision, will allow you to consult all kinds of information, from tracks on a ski slope at your own pace as you run, all thanks to microLED displays the size of a grain of sand.
“In the short term, it sounds like a futuristic idea, but 20 years ago we couldn’t even imagine many of the technological advances we have today,” says Ana Belén Cisneros del Río, vice-dean of the College. opticians-optometrists. of Castilla y León (COOCYL), about the Mojo Vision project. However, Daniel Elies, specialist in cornea, cataract and refractive surgery and medical director of the Institute of Ocular Microsurgery (IMO) Miranza Group in Madrid, does not believe that this type of contact lens can become a reality. daily in the short term, “mainly due to cost issues.”
One of the companies interested in making augmented reality contacts is Magic Leap. Sony, for its part, filed a patent a few years ago for eyelid-controlled video recording lenses, and Samsung did the same for lenses equipped with a camera and a screen projecting images. directly in the eye of the user. Meanwhile, some researchers are trying to create robotic lenses that can zoom in and out with the a winkand still others are working on night vision contact lenses, which could be useful in military applications.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, some manufacturers use opaque and brittle components to enable smart contact lenses to work, which the authors point out could block the wearer’s vision and damage the eye. In order for this type of contact lens to reach the market, in addition to overcoming multiple technical challenges and providing clear vision, it is essential that they pose no risk to eye health. “It’s still a foreign body that we put in the eye,” explains Cisneros, who insists on the importance of researching the development of materials that are biocompatible with the surface of the cornea.
If there’s one area where scientists and tech giants are trying to harness the potential of contact lenses, it’s health. A review published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies explains that contact lens sensors can be used to monitor many diseases and conditions: “The presence of biomarkers in tear fluid will lead to diagnostic contact lenses that will help detect and treat systemic and ocular diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and dry eye syndrome,” Cisneros points out.
The expert predicts that future lenses will be able to monitor eye pressure, check for glaucoma (a disease that damages the optic nerve) and even produce images of the retinal vasculature for early detection of hypertension, stroke and heart disease. diabetes. For patients with the latter case, lenses capable of measuring blood sugar would be useful; something that companies like Google and Microsoft have been working on for years. Other scientists have tried to take it a step further and create a version that changes color to alert on changes in glucose levels.
A limitation of this type of lens is that they can usually only detect a single biomarker in the eye, such as glucose or lactic acid, according to the review published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems. The authors believe that developing lenses that can detect multiple chemical compounds in real time “will make contact lenses more powerful as biomedical tools.”
Administration of medication using contact lenses
These lenses could also be useful for the treatment of certain ocular pathologies. Indeed, several investigations highlight their potential as portable medical devices for analyzing response to certain medications and evaluate surgical interventions. “Drug-delivering contact lenses could offer more precise dosing than traditional eye drops, increasing the time a drug stays on the ocular surface and reducing side effects,” Cisneros adds.
It’s still too early to tell what innovations will be incorporated into contact lenses in the coming decades, but the possibilities are endless. Elies does not exclude a distant future in which they would be equipped with sensors or a camera capable of recording the internal data of the eye and could make diagnoses or send certain alerts.