A contact lens which is able to magnify an object by up to 2.8 times with a blink of the eye has been created by researchers in Switzerland.
Researchers developing the device at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) believe that the contact lens, which is currently in its prototype phase, holds “a lot of promise” for patients with low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The first of its kind telescopic lens, which was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in California, could be available in two years.
Researchers confirmed that further work in needed before the lenses can be worn by patients regularly and the current prototype can only be worn for half an hour as the lenses do not allow enough oxygen to pass through into the eye.
Users wearing the contact lens are required to wink their right eye to magnify their view, and their left eye to return to normal vision. A pair of glasses, which accompany the contact lenses, are able to recognize a wink, yet disregard an involuntary blink, to allow the lens to magnify.
Lead researcher, Eric Tremblay, from the EPFL, said: “It’s very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky device. There is a strong need for something integrated, and a contact lens is an attractive direction. At this point ,this is still research, but we are hopeful it will eventually become a real option for people with AMD.”
The prototype is the latest version of the contact lens which was first developed in 2013 as part of research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Since the initial version, researchers have been updating the lens which, at 1.55mm thick, is larger than traditional contact lenses.
Welcoming the innovation, chairman of the BCLA academic committee, Professor James Wolffsohn, said: ”
“This seems an intriguing idea; to provide optical magnification to the retina when required in a similar way to a bioptic telescope. It is currently a scleral lens and 1.55mm thick, including rigid mirror elements, which are likely to affect corneal physiology and comfort even with the suggested micro-fenestrations for oxygen transmission. As the scientists acknowledge, there are significant ongoing challenges, but we look forward to testing the concept once a clinical prototype is available.”
Commenting on the development, RNIB eye health campaigns manager, Clara Eaglen, said: “This is interesting research as AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the over 50s.
“It is encouraging that innovative products such as these telescopic contact lenses are being developed, especially as they aim to make the most of a person’s existing vision.
“This research is still at an early stage but it will be exciting to watch how it progresses and to fully understand how this could help people with AMD.”
CEO of the Macular Society, Cathy Yelp, added: “There is virtue in having a zoomable contact lens for those people with macular degeneration who have lost their central vision. We will be interested to see how, in practice, it works for people with AMD.
“With an aging population, investment in research and new treatments is a pressing issue as there are 600,000 people in the UK with this form of sight loss. The cost to the NHS of macular treatments is now around £300 million per year and yet as a nation we spend less than one tenth of this on research into macular conditions. We believe in increasing our support to research, as well as encouraging greater innovation in treatment and services so people with sight loss maintain their independent lives.”