While contact lenses have already been around for generations, the research and development that is continuously taking place will in the not too distant future mean that contact lenses will provide a variety of other medical functions than just vision correction. Currently, there is a lot of excitement about the research that is ongoing at universities throughout the world including the US, Korea and India on using contact lenses as a means of treating various eye diseases.
Vitamin E contact lenses for glaucoma
Researchers at the University of Florida have pioneered a new technology called diffusion-barrier technology, which means that contact lenses can be used as a means to deliver medicine as well as vitamins and minerals.
This new technology means the medicine is released slowly over a period of time from the contact lenses and therefore avoids releasing a sudden burst of medicine on inserting the lens into the eye.
This approach has a doubly beneficial impact on the eye because the ‘barrier’ is created using vitamin E molecules, which is a powerful antioxidant and also good for the eye. The vitamin E molecules in effect act as a barrier to the medication, so it is released slowly and gets to where it is needed.
One suggested use for this may be to treat glaucoma, which can currently be treated using eye drops. Glaucoma is a very serious as the disease is the second leading cause of blindness in the world after cataracts.
Also see our article about reflexology and glaucoma.
Research on drug-dispensing contact lenses has also been carried out at Auburn University in the US. The method researchers there are using is based on molecular imprinting, which in effect means a ‘drug memory’ is created in the lens and not that the lens is soaked in medication. Their research has shown that administering medicine through contact lenses means it last nearly 100 times longer than medicine administered with eye drops.
This new technology could have a whole variety of uses in replacing eye drops since numerous diseases are treated by prescribing eye drops. However, eye drops are not always the optimal way of delivering treatment to the eye because the medicine can be washed away by tears.
In other words, very little of the medicine may actually reach the part of the eye that needs it. It can also be difficult for some people, especially the elderly, to administer eye drops themselves. In fact, it has been estimated that as little as 1 per cent of the dose actually goes to where it is needed.
There are many potential uses for medicated contact lenses, especially since it would be feasible to use the same technology to administer antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, as well as treat a wide range of eye conditions, making eye drops a thing of the past.