Research team develops contact lenses which can diagnose glaucoma

Key Takeaways

  • A new contact lens has been developed that can detect changes in eye pressure over the course of hours.
  • The new lens may lead to more accurate diagnoses compared to traditional exams.

Glaucoma develops when the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged, usually by a build-up of fluid in the front part of the eye. Glaucoma effects around 70 million people worldwide and can cause irreversible loss of vision if not treated, but around half of those living with the condition are not aware of it, since it usually develop slowly over time. This scenario results in lasting damage having already occurred when it is diagnosed.

This could change in the future as academics from the UK and Türkiye (Turkey) have developed a contact lens that can detect changes in eye pressure (IOP), which signals possible glaucoma.  The new contact lenses contain micro-sensors that monitor changes in IOP over a period of hours, sending the data collected wirelessly so it can be analyzed by an ophthalmologist and a diagnosis given. Their paper, published in the journal Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, sets out the findings from their initial pilot study of six participants. Having determined that the technology works successfully, they now plan a further study with a larger group of subjects over the next year. The lenses will then be made commercially available through their spin-off company GlakoLens. 

Traditional methods for measuring IOP involve going to a clinic for a single measurement which can be misleading due to the natural variation of IOP during the day. Professor Hamdi Torun explains, “Intra-ocular pressure, or IOP, can vary greatly over a 24-hour period, so it is important to monitor the patient either at intervals or ideally continuously for a whole day to get the best insight into the health of their eyes.” Because measurements can be taken more easily over a longer period of time with the GlakoLens, the new lens may lead to a more accurate diagnosis compared to traditional exams. “The benefit of the contact lenses we have developed is that once placed in the eye, the patient can then go about their day as normal while their IOP measurements are recorded and sent to a doctor for analysis once the 24-hour period of testing is complete,” Torun said.

While this is not the first time contact lenses have been developed to measure IOP, previous products used an electrically active silicon chip, which results in a thicker, less comfortable lens. That chip also makes the lens less flexible and can restrict vision, making it more difficult to carry out daily activities. In contrast, the GlakoLens contact lenses use an electrically passive sensor embedded in a disposable soft contact lens and a wearable electronic readout system to collect, store, and process the data, letting the patient go about their day as normal. 

As well as diagnosing glaucoma, there is also potential for the lenses to be used to detect other health conditions by measuring glucose, lactic acid, and other molecules present in the eye. Professor Torun adds, “We believe this technology has huge potential and could not only save the sight of patients in the early stages of glaucoma but also provide early diagnosis of other diseases in the future.” 

Source: Northumbria University, Medical Xpress, January 16, 2024; see source article