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Contact Lens Devised to Measure Glaucoma Eye Pressure

Glaucoma contact lens

Glaucoma contact lens (University of Liverpool)

20 October 2017. Engineers in the U.K. developed a soft contact lens that in a clinical study shows it can reliably track changes in pressure inside the eye, a key factor in glaucoma. A team from University of Liverpool, contact lens manufacturer Ultravision CLPL, and participating hospitals in the U.K. reported early results of the study yesterday on the university web site.

Glaucoma is the name given to a collection of eye conditions resulting in damage to the optic nerve that in advanced stages can lead to vision loss. In most cases of glaucoma, abnormally high intraocular pressure in the eye results in the optic nerve damage. Liverpool University cites data showing 0.5 million people in the U.K. have glaucoma, which costs the country’s National Health Service more than £1 billion ($US 1.3 billion) a year. In the U.S., according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, some 3 million individuals have glaucoma, with African-Americans 6 to 8 times more likely to suffer blindness from the disorder than Caucasians.

The team led by Liverpool biomedical engineering professor Ahmed Elsheikh is seeking better ways of tracking intraocular pressure in people at risk of glaucoma to more accurately diagnose the disease. Today, people suspected of having glaucoma need to visit doctors’ offices, usually twice a year, with specialized instruments required to gauge intraocular pressure, with these measurements used to determine pressure-lowering medication dosage. However, intraocular pressure can vary markedly from one day to the next, or even from one time of day to another, often as a result of environmental factors such as stress, physical activity, or sleep.

Researchers from Elsheikh’s Bioeg lab that studies ocular and soft tissue biomechanics developed a contact lens to provide continuous intraocular pressure measurements. The lens is made from a soft silicone hydrogel, a water-based polymer, containing a pressure sensor. The sensor then wirelessly transmits intraocular pressure readings for up to 24 hours to a nearby controller unit, which the lab says is about the size of mobile phone.

Elsheikh and colleagues tested the device with 12 healthy volunteers recruited through hospitals in Liverpool and London. The study participants wore the lens for more than an hour, while being observed by clinicians at the hospitals. Results of this first study with humans show the device can measure changes in intraocular pressure, with little discomfort to the participants.

The researchers next plan to refine their fabrication techniques, which will move the device along the path to commercialization. “This device,” says Elsheikh in a university statement, “has the potential to provide millions of sufferers of glaucoma with much needed information, which will ensure that they are being treated correctly, and that their good vision can be maintained and damage kept to a minimum.”

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