Smart contact lens concept

Smart contact lens concept unrelated to this study. (Stock photo by Kitreel on Shutterstock)

POHANG, South Korea — Glaucoma robs millions of people around the world of their vision, and doctors have long sought for ways to fight the debilitating, incurable condition. Korean researchers are now bringing some hope after developing a smart lens contact that targets the cause of glaucoma, which can help diagnosis and even provide treatment.

Glaucoma is a common eye disease that occurs when the optic nerves are damaged by increased intraocular pressure (IOP) within the eye, leading to irreversible damage. In fact, the CDC states that 3 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, and that it’s the second leading cause of blindness. While there is no cure, early diagnosis and intervention is key to preserving vision for the long-haul.

Patients with the condition have to monitor and keep tabs on their IOP for the rest of their lives to ward off blindness as best as they can. But if this could be done automatically,  it could greatly improve quality of life in this population, especially since the disease largely affects older adults who may already be keeping up with other health conditions.

To help, a team from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), led by Professor Sei Kwang Hahn and Dr. Tae Yeon Kim, has successfully produced a wireless smart contact lens that can be used as a therapeutic intervention, as well as a diagnostic one.

Not only can the contacts monitor IOP levels in glaucoma patients for them, but it can also administer drugs in response to the readings. To do this, the lens consists of an IOP sensor that utilizes hollow gold nanowires. It also has a flexible drug delivery system, wireless power and communication system, as well as an application-specific circuit chip designed for monitoring and controlling IOP levels. The timely drug delivery system can instantly deliver timolol, a drug that can decrease pressure in the eye, thus helping maintain IOP levels.

Schematic illustration of a theranostic smart contact lens for glaucoma treatment.
Schematic illustration of a theranostic smart contact lens for glaucoma treatment. (Credit: POSTECH)

Scientists have successfully shown that these smart contacts can indeed measure IOP in real-time and release appropriate drug amounts accordingly in rabbit models with glaucoma. The research is very promising, and has the potential to change the game for glaucoma patients. The development can make personalized and effective treatment for the condition possible, with minimal adverse effects that follow. The team looks ahead to applying the premise of this innovation to other wearable devices as well.

“We hope the early commercialization of the newly developed theranostic smart contact lens for diagnosing and treating glaucoma intraocular pressure to provide glaucoma patients’ compliance,” says study leader Professor Hahn in a statement.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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