New Microelectronic Contact Lens Holds Promise for Keratoconus Patients

A research team at Ghent University in collaboration with Imec recently released preliminary data on their artificial iris. They are calling it a “smart contact lens.” By embedding microelectronics into a contact lens, they are able to correct for a variety of vision issues ranging from light sensitivity to keratoconus.

Their study has been published in Nature.

The Technology

This technology is still in the R&D phase but early results are extremely promising for this new technology. The research team has called it Azalea Vision.

In some ways,  this contact lens is very similar to a camera lens. It has an adjustable aperture which means it allows for dynamic visible light transmittance. Why is light so important? Light influences how a person sees color and also influences visual clarity.

The lens is made of hydrogels which is a type of plastic that absorbs water. This helps allow them to be biocompatible.  However, there was some initial concern regarding how the electronic components of the lens could influence the body. Would an immune response occur?

Since all of the electronic parts of this device are embedded within the polymer lens (one already used for keratoconus), it is safe and comfortable for the patient. The electronics themselves are flexible, helping the lens to curve to the shape of the user.

How it Helps

Azalea Vision can help several aspects of vision. Researchers are hopeful it could become a one size fits all approach for patients who don’t have one. Soft and hard contact lenses have proven beneficial for many patients, but are often insufficient by themselves. Surgery is another option, but comes with its own risks and costs.

This new lens can help nearsightedness and farsightedness simultaneously.

This new lens could be particularly beneficial for those with anirida or keratoconus, two very rare conditions. The conditions are progressive, with vision issues becoming worse over time. Patients suffer from light sensitivity and general eye irritation.

It may also aid those with dry-eye syndrome and those with migraines which impact light sensitivity.

How it Works

An artificial iris made with  concentric rings laid over LCD cells is embedded in the contact lens. The LCD cells are also combined with a TFT which is a thin layer of glass combined with a semiconductor material. The TFT improves the quality and support of the LCD cells.

The LCD cells are a GH variant. This means that dichroic dyes and liquid crystals both work to absorb lights at different angles depending on their placement.

The lens also has electrodes embedded within it. These improve the light absorption in the lens by controlling which cells are turned on or off. This process allows the patient to see colored and white light. The ability of this technology to control how light moves into the retina, and also to limit this light transmission for those who are more sensitive.

Looking Forward

Azalea Vision is a prototype that is still being developed and refined. Although the goal is to release the product as soon as possible to help patients as long as possible, more research is still needed before the researchers can file for approval.

The findings so far have been highly positive, however, and the team is excited to see the future of this technology.

You can read more about this technology for keratoconus patients and others here.

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