In his famous 1970’s science fiction TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man sported many fanciful technological enhancements, including a bionic eye that worked like a telephoto lens. At the time, that type of “upgrade” to our natural human sight abilities seemed a little absurd.
However, medical science today is catching up with science fiction as several companies are developing so-called “smart” contact lenses for a variety of practical, as well as entertainment uses.
Today’s post offers a little look into where the future of contact lenses may be headed.
Military Investment Helped Spur Smart Contact Lens Development
Since 2013, the United States Department of Defense’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been funding research into the development of telescopic contact lenses. These lenses could increase magnification with the literal blink of an eye.
Given how useful these would be in combat situations, military funding for their development is not surprising. When developed, however, these lenses would also help patients with central vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Promising Applications for Glaucoma Patients
Of the smart contact lenses in now development, those utilizing the SENSIMED Triggerfish® contact lens sensor (CLS)—which monitors eye pressure in individuals diagnosed with glaucoma—are already on the market overseas and will soon be available in the US. As the world’s second leading cause of blindness, glaucoma causes pressure in the eye to increase over time. Elevated pressure can damage the optic nerve, causing irreversible blindness.
Glaucoma prevention and management typically focus on reducing eye pressure. Treatment protocols vary depending upon a patient’s rate of pressure increase. Currently, glaucoma patients’ eye pressure readings are taken at regular intervals, but these are only snapshots of pressure and don’t reflect 24-hour cyclical fluctuations.
SENSIMED Triggerfish-equipped contact lenses constantly monitor changes in the shape of the eye, which correspond to changes in eye pressure. These lenses also transmit those pressure readings to a remote device, which means your ophthalmologist can receive information directly from your lenses without you having to do much of anything. With that data, eye doctors can more accurately determine the rate of disease progression and select the best glaucoma treatment plan. Doctors will also be better able to monitor treatment success.
Additional Health Monitoring Possibilities
Soon other medical problems may also be able to be monitored and treated using smart contact lenses. Patients with diabetes may soon be able to wear contact lenses that monitor glucose levels in tears. This holds great promise in preventing diabetes-related vision problems, like diabetic retinopathy.
Other smart contact lenses may similarly detect wearers’ cholesterol, sodium, and even alcohol levels. Patients who regularly need to put drops in their eyes will one day be able to wear contact lenses that automatically release their medication.
Smart Contact Lenses Will Have Fun and Educational Purposes, Too
Smart contact lenses won’t just help those with medical needs; tech companies are also developing versions that can be used for augmented reality. Google and Samsung are already working on contact lenses with cameras. Imagine being able to take pictures or access the internet without anyone knowing you are doing it!
Most smart contact lenses are still in the development stages. Some of the biggest challenges developers have are making the technology soft enough for the eye and making contact lenses breathable enough for longer wear.
Based on the increasing numbers of seniors with age-related vision loss and patients with diabetes, the demand for smart contact lenses is predicted to increase tremendously over the next six years.
Have Questions About Contact Lenses?
For better vision or a better understanding of how your future looks in contact lenses, it’s time to make an appointment with us here at Campus Eye Center. We’re well known throughout the Lancaster area for helping patients live better by seeing better!