Novel Phototherapeutic Contact Lenses to Treat Ocular Disorders

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Researchers from the California Institute of Technology developed glowing contact lenses that could inhibit diabetic blindness

Novel lenses can help in battling blindness in the hundreds of millions of people around the world suffering from diabetes. Phototherapeutic contact lens may be useful in treating major eye diseases driven by retinal oxygen starvation, such as diabetic retinopathy. The lenses are worn overnight and contain an embedded light source that shines an imperceptible light onto the retina that can help reduce its metabolic needs.

Caltech graduate student Colin Cook explained that photoreceptors i.e. rod cells allow individual to see at night require high amount of oxygen in the dark to boost their sensitivity so as to capture the limited number of photons. For diabetics with compromised retinal vasculature, this means that the limited oxygen supply gets wastefully consumed, thereby leaving the rest of the retina to starve. The team’s smart contact lenses use light to trick the rods into reducing their oxygen consumption so that more is available for the rest of the retina.

To take the project to the next stage, the Caltech researchers have partnered with Dr. Mark Humayun’s lab at the University of Southern California in order to evaluate efficacy. Study demonstrated that the lenses can reduce rod photoreceptor activity by up to 90%. Furthermore, the lenses don’t affect sleep of an indidivual. “My mission is to get this technology into the hands of patients and so commercialization is a necessary step, and one I’ll pursue after graduation,” Cook said.

“We know that within 10 to 15 years of diabetes onset, virtually all patients will develop some form of retinopathy,” Cook said. “Unfortunately, the current treatment options are rather invasive, including monthly eye injections of drug or sacrificing the peripheral retina with laser burns. Consequently, many patients avoid treatment altogether. Our lenses are being developed as a non-invasive, preventative therapy option for patients to slow progression of the disease and delay the need for invasive treatments.”


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