Technology, like all things, is a double-edged sword. The internet, for instance, can connect people all around the globe. At the same time, it can lead to the invasion of privacy. What matters is not the invention but how it is used. And Sony’s patent on a contact lens that records everything you see is questionable, to say the least.
At this point in time, the contact lens is only theoretical. However, Sony isn’t the only tech giant attempting to create it. Google is reportedly working on a contact lens camera. With the populace increasingly dependent on technology, such as smartphones and laptops, it seems sensible to assume that in the near future, this kind of technology will be developed.
If so, people need to ask themselves how comfortable they are with the repercussions of constantly being monitored and recorded. Such is a scenario out of 1984 by George Orwell, and that resource was meant to be a warning — not an instruction manual.
A novel contact lens device developed by University of Liverpool engineers to improve the treatment of glaucoma has been found to reliably track pressure changes in the eye and be wearable by people who took part in its first clinical study.
The contact lens device is able to continuously measure fluid pressure in the eye – known as intraocular pressure (IOP) – the elevation of which is a cause of glaucoma and if not managed can lead to loss of vision.
Currently IOP is measured in glaucoma patients during clinic visits which are usually twice a year, but this characterisation of IOP is unreliable as IOP is dynamic and easily affected by psychological and environmental factors – such as stress or sleeping.
The device, which is made of a soft silicone hydrogel material to ensure it is comfortable to wear, contains a pressure sensor which detects changes in IOP continuously over a period of up to 24 hours. These changes are then transmitted wirelessly to an easily portable external controller (the size of a mobile phone) which collects the data and provides clinicians with much needed, but currently unavailable, data to assist with glaucoma treatment.
A small scale, first in man, clinical study of the novel device involved 12 volunteers who wore the new contact lens device for more than an hour while under constant clinical observation has been completed at St. Paul’s Eye Unit in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
小規模で人体では初、ロイヤルリバプール大学病院のSt. Paul’s Eye Unit で１時間以上コンタクトレンズを装用した１２人のボランティアによる最新装置の臨床試験が一定の臨床観察を受け終了した。
Results from the study found the device was able to measure changes in the IOP, with minimal impact and little discomfort to the patient.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness, affecting 0.5million people in the UK (67million worldwide) and costing the NHS more than £1billion a year. The aim of glaucoma treatment is to control IOP in order to minimise further damage, and avoid loss of vision.
The device has been developed by University biomedical engineers in conjunction with engineers from specialist contact lens manufacturer, Ultravision CLPL, St Pauls Eye Unit, Liverpool and Moorfields Eye Hospital, London. The development team is now looking to refine manufacturing techniques in order to take the device to the next step towards commercialisation.
装置の開発は大学の生物医学のエンジニアとリヴァプールSt Pauls Eye UnitのコンタクトレンズメーカーウルトラヴィジョンCLPLのエンジニアとMoorfields眼科病院の共同で行われた。開発チームは商品化へ向けた次の段階に進む為に製造技術の改良を模索中だ。
Ahmed Elsheikh, Professor of Biomaterial Mechanics in the University’s School of Engineering, said: “The results of this study are very positive and show that the device is comfortable for people to wear and gives good measurements of the IOP.
“This device has the potential to provide millions of sufferers of glaucoma with much needed information which will ensure that they are being treated correctly, and that their good vision can be maintained and damage kept to a minimum.”
Many people with diabetes need to prick their finger for a drop of blood up to eight times a day to monitor their glucose levels, an uncomfortable and cumbersome task. It can all add up to tens of thousands of finger pricks over a person's lifetime.
Now, South Korean researchers may have a means of measuring blood sugar without a finger prick in sight: The scientists developed a glucose monitor embedded in a soft contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears and transmits that information wirelessly to a handheld device… and you don't even need to cry.
The device has been tested so far only on live rabbits, with no signs of discomfort. But the researchers who created the device predict that this sugar-sensing contact lens may be available commercially for people in less than five years. The device would be placed in one eye and not be used to correct vision, like traditional contact lenses.
More than 30 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population, have type 2 diabetes, and another 80 million have prediabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes is a health concern in South Korea, as well, where the rate rose from 5.6 percent in 2006 to 8 percent in 2013, according to data from the Korean National Health Insurance Service.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body periodically has levels of blood sugar, or blood glucose, that are higher than normal. The cause might be the pancreas's inability to produce enough insulin to help metabolize the glucose (called type 1 diabetes) or, much more common, the body's inability to use insulin properly (called type 2 diabetes).
In either case, many (but not all) of those with diabetes need to monitor their glucose levels through the course of the day. Prolonged, elevated glucose levels can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems and nerve problems.
Previous attempts to embed glucose monitors into a contact lens had been fraught with difficulties. The electronics were too brittle and the lenses were too rigid, leading to a fragile device that was both uncomfortable and prone to breaking, said lead study author Jang-Ung Park, a professor of engineering at Ulsan National Institute of Science & Technology in South Korea. Elements in these earlier devices blocked vision, too, and would potentially damage the eye, according to the paper.
But advances in materials science and nanotechnology in recent years have enabled Park's team to design flexible, or stretchable, structures and circuits, including an LED display embedded in the lens.
The resulting product measures glucose levels in real time in natural tear secretions and relays this data through LED display that can emit a non-intrusive light if glucose levels get too high. Or, with the inclusion of a miniature antenna in the lens, information can be transmitted wirelessly.
"The key difference is the soft lens with stretchable electronics and displays," Park told Live Science. "This soft contact lens is stretchable and can be turned over. So, the LED light can be emitted into the [eye of the] wearer or into the opposite direction, dependent on the wearer's choice."
Glucose monitoring is optional for some people who don't need insulin injections. But everyone who uses insulin to regulate their condition must do finger sticks for blood glucose testing, even if only to calibrate the glucose monitor. This includes the 1.25 million Americans with type 1 diabetes and another approximately 6 million with type 2 diabetes, according the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
A blood sample from a finger stick is the gold standard for accurate blood glucose measurements. Techniques have been available for years to measure glucose in tears, but measurements tend not to be as accurate for a variety of factors; for example, glucose concentrations can be lower when your eyes are more watery from allergies or crying.
"Tear glucose levels do vary in relation to blood glucose levels, [so] much research still needs to be done to clarify the correlation and how closely tear glucose levels track with blood glucose levels," Matt Petersen, managing director of medical information for the ADA, told Live Science.
However, the researchers who have created the new lens-based device said that monitoring glucose via tears may serve as a convenient proxy to blood measurements because it is done continually in real time, compensating for sampling inconsistencies.
The researchers hope that their technique of embedding sensors on soft contact lenses also can be applied to other areas, such as smart devices for drug delivery, augmented reality and even biomarker monitoring via a smartphone.
One of the main problems these new contact lenses could solve is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the loss of central vision caused by retinal damage that gets worse with age. Standard contact lenses aren’t useful since they only correct for the eye’s focus but cannot help with the fact that the retina is damaged. The current solution is to use bulky glasses that have mounted telescopes or surgical implants in the eye which help to magnify the light coming into the eye onto undamaged parts of the retina. Surgical implants are invasive and expensive, thus not ideal.
Instead, Eric Tremblay from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and his team including scientists from the U.S, have designed a contact lens that consists of a telescope. The new contact lens is made of a plastic called polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). It works by using tightly fitting mirror surfaces to make a telescope that fits within a space that is a millimeter thick. This fits within the contact lens and allows the lens to have a magnified mode and a normal mode. The normal mode is at the center of the lens and the magnified area is ring-shaped and at the edges of the contact lens. The telescope can achieve x2.8 magnification. Tremblay says, ‘A user can switch between normal and magnified vision…and to do this switching, you would use a pair of off-the-shelf 3D TV glasses that we have modified slightly.’ The glasses act as polarizers which can block either the magnified area or the normal area.
A prototype was made and tested with computer modelling and by creating a life-sized model of the eye. It was found that the magnified image was of greater quality than other magnification techniques. But before this becomes commercial Tremblay says some refinements need to be made. One of which includes using a material that is gas-permeable.PMMA is gas-impermeable so if this was used the eye would not be able to get oxygen, therefore they cannot be used for long-term wear. Tremblay says, ‘We are now trying to build the lens using standard contact-lens materials that are gas-permeable…these will ensure that the cornea is receiving plenty of oxygen and so can be used safely all day long.’ The team hope to see clinical trials being carried by the end of the year, so watch this space.