Smart Contacts

Dr. Babak Parviz and his fellow pioneers, scientists at the University of Washington, are developing a new type of contact lens: a smart contact lens.

A Contact Lens That Can Monitor Your Health

The idea behind these lenses is to create a high technology way to effortlessly monitor and/or treat health conditions by detecting levels of different chemicals in your eyes using embedded sensors and electronics.

Ultimately, scientists want to create a lens that doesn’t just monitor your body inside out, by doing things like detecting your blood alcohol level, or your cholesterol, but also dispense drugs to help manage your health.

There are variations of smart lenses available on the market now. Created by Sensimed, Triggerfish is a wirelessly powered contact lens built to continuously measure the curvature of the eye in patients with glaucoma. It has been allowing doctors to learn much more about the variations in intraocular pressure (IOP) and its relationship with the disease, which will hopefully lead to a better treatment for glaucoma.

However, these contact lenses aren’t advanced enough to be conveniently worn around on a continuous basis. Because the technology within the lens has a short range, the external antenna has to be extremely close to the eye to receive data. In fact, it has to be taped around the eye socket.

There is one other type of “smart lens” on the market as well. Created by Daniel Kohane, it is designed to treat disease rather than just monitor it. Kohane’s lens, that still hasn’t been named, is able to slowly release drugs into the eye over a long period of time. The reason behind Kohane’s invention is simple: “People fail to apply their eye drops as prescribed…that leads to an escalation of the disease and the therapy.”

Dr. Kohane’s ideal lens would be a combination of both smart lenses that are on the market now, a lens that can monitor your health or disease and disperse medication accordingly. For instance, for glaucoma patients, once there IOP hits a certain peak, your contacts would automatically dispense the necessary medication.

With the development of their new lens, Dr. Parviz and his team also share a similar vision, but would want to take it a step further. Instead of being limited to treat just eye diseases, Dr. Parviz wants to detect and treat your body. For instance, for those with diabetes, their lenses could measure their glucose continuously through tears.

Dr. Parviz’s design even has a broader range antenna; therefore, it is able to work from a distance and there is no need to tape the external antenna to the side of your face.

The problem with this model, however, lies in the fact that the technology is actually exposed in these lenses, rather than embedded into them. Exposure would cause protein build-up with would adversely affect the usefulness of the lenses over time. And though simply cleaning the lenses the way we clean traditional contacts is an option, it is unknown the effect cleaning fluid would have over the electronics and the accuracy of the reading. Besides cleaning fluid, tears also are an issue which Dr. Parviz and his team needs to work through. Because tears have a small, but detectable electronic charge, they can also result in skewing or disrupting with the antenna in the lens.

Each of these scientists, however, is working on a ground breaking new way to monitor health and administer drugs. Can you imagine what else in the future might just be a blink away?

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