Smart eyeglass lenses that slow down vision loss on the horizon, scientists reveal

TUBINGEN, Germany — The development of smart glasses aimed at slowing the progression of vision loss may be closer than we think. Researchers have created a new lens designed to combat myopia, also known as nearsightedness, a condition in which distant objects appear blurry. The lens is designed to precisely assess the light-focusing properties of specialized eyeglass lenses, potentially leading to more effective treatments for the condition.

Myopia is becoming increasingly common. In the U.S. alone, it affects over 40 percent of the population, a significant increase from the 25 percent reported in the 1970s. The condition occurs when the eyeball grows too long, becoming oval-shaped rather than round. This alters how light reaches the retina, the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye responsible for transmitting visual images to the brain.

“Insights into the link between the optical properties of myopia progression management lenses and effectiveness in real-world scenarios will pave the way to more effective treatments. This could help millions of children and is fundamental in understanding the mechanisms by which these lenses work,” says Dr. Augusto Arias-Gallego, the lead author of the study from the University of Tubingen, in a media release.

In a person with myopia, the elongated shape of the eyeball causes light to focus in front of the retina, leading to clear vision for close objects but blurry vision for distant ones. The exact causes of myopia are unknown, but genetic factors and environmental influences, such as extended periods indoors, are thought to play a role.

The development of glasses that can halt or slow the progression of myopia has been a long-sought goal in eye research. Special contact lenses have been effective, but they aren’t suitable for everyone, particularly children.

According to the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia, myopia is on the rise globally. Current trends suggest that half of the world’s population could be myopic by 2050. Specialized lenses have been shown to prevent myopia from worsening, which is crucial for children and teens who often see their condition progress as they grow.

Scientist measuring eyeglass lens
Augusto Arias-Gallego working on the setup that was used to measure the focusing properties of these special lenses. CREDIT: Carl Zeiss Vision International GmbH

The new technique measures lens performance under real-world viewing conditions and examines the light-focusing properties of various lenses used to slow myopia progression.

Lens designs that modify retinal signals to reduce the progression of myopia are available in the market and have undergone clinical testing. They are thought to slow the elongation of the eyeball.

“We didn’t find a method that could be used to characterize the optical properties of these eyeglass lenses under real viewing conditions. Therefore, we developed a new instrument that can measure the lens’s optical response to different angles of illumination while reproducing the myopic eye’s pupil and refractive errors,” explains Dr. Arias-Gallego.

Their device, which uses an illumination source mounted on a rotating arm, enables researchers to mimic real aberrations produced by different angles of illumination for various myopic eyes while testing the lenses.

“By combining the through-focus results with light-scattering measurements, we were able to accurately characterize several types of eyeglass lenses,” the researcher adds. “The results raised new questions that need to be studied further while also pointing to potential strategies that could increase the efficacy of future designs.”

The team is currently working on adapting the instrument to include light sources with varying wavelengths, as real-world illumination contains many wavelengths.

Their study is published in the scientific journal Optica.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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