Smart contact lenses may soon be able to monitor eye health in real time
The technology has recently been awarded a patent and will soon be ready for clinical trials.
Researchers from Purdue University have successfully fitted stretchable biosensors to a commercially available contact lens for the first time. The breakthrough will enable them to gather clinically vital information about patients’ eye health without any discomfort or the need for anaesthetics or other intrusive surgical measures.
“This technology will be greatly beneficial to the painless diagnosis or early detection of many ocular diseases including glaucoma,” said lead researcher Prof Chi Hwan Lee. “Since the first conceptual invention by Leonardo da Vinci, there has been a great desire to utilise contact lenses for eye-wearable biomedical platforms.”
Fitting sensors or other electronics to commercial soft contact lenses has previously proven difficult due to the complex fabrication techniques required to embed them into the soft, flexible, curved shape.
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Now, a multidisciplinary group of biomedical, chemical and mechanical engineers based at Purdue have figured out a method of doing so using a combination of printing, electroplating and water-soluble bonding techniques.
The sensors embedded in the lenses can then be connected to a computer via a thin wire and used to record the electrical activity in the retina by detecting minute changes in its sensitivity to light.
The technology has been awarded a patent and the researchers are now looking to begin testing it in clinical trials.
“This technology will allow doctors and scientists to better understand spontaneous retinal activity with significantly improved accuracy, reliability, and user comfort,” said clinical lead Prof Pete Kollbaum, the director of the Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research.
Reader Q&A: Is fish actually brain food?Asked by: Lara Hopkins, London
We’ve all read or heard that eating fish is good for your brain. Indeed, a large study in 2008 hit the headlines when it claimed that eating oily fish can reduce the harmful brain lesions that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
But do these claims stand up to scrutiny? A good source of information are Cochrane Reviews, which independently analyse all the available evidence to inform healthcare decision-making. And the evidence for oily fish and its impact on the brain isn’t convincing. For example, a 2012 Cochrane Review showed that fish oils made no difference in preventing dementia.
A similar Cochrane Review in 2016 found that fish oils also made no difference for people who already had Alzheimer’s disease. What about depression? Unfortunately, a 2015 Cochrane Review found that more evidence was needed as to whether fish oils have any benefit.
So it looks like there is little hard evidence that oily fish improves cognitive function, protects against conditions such as dementia, or helps people with depression. However, some studies have shown a benefit in mice, so maybe more research is needed.
Nonetheless, the NHS still recommends eating oily fish as part of a healthy diet, because it is likely to have some positive health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease.
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.