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Published on Mar 17, 2015
Dr. Max Gomez CBS2 News Interview with Dr. Mark Fromer
An experimental contact lens with built-in telescope could help people with blinding disease
Scientists are developing smart contact lenses embedded with miniscule mirrors that can magnify vision by almost three times. The 1.55mm-thick lenses incorporate a thin reflective telescope made of mirrors and filters, when light enters the eye it bounces off the series of mirrors and increases the perceived view of an object or person. It is hoped that the lens will improve the sight of people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the third leading cause of blindness globally.
AMD causes the loss of central vision due to gradual damage to the eye’s retina and there are few options for cure or treatment. “AMD is the biggest problem where magnification is a proven visual aid,” says Eric Tremblay, research scientist at EPFL in Switzerland.
Tremblay led the optical design of the lens, which is based on a surgically implantable telescope currently used by some patients with AMD, but which is more invasive than a lens. “With a contact lens, it’s easy to try it,” says Tremblay.
A key innovation with the lenses is the added ability to switch between magnified and regular vision through a complementary pair of glasses. The battery-powered glasses use LCD technology to watch the movement of the eye and a simple wink can alter their polarization and determine whether light entering is magnified or not. “Having the ability to switch on demand is attractive,” says Tremblay.
The ability to selectively magnify your vision makes the design of the glass-lens combination more suitable for daily life. “When magnified you lose a lot of your field of view, your peripheral vision,” says Tremblay. A strategic wink will enable users to keep an eye on their periphery, such as cars approaching them as they cross a street, whilst also being able to zoom in and recognize the faces of those around them.
The team developed their technology on scleral lenses, which have an increased thickness and diameter, making them commonly used for more special purpose eye care. “They provide a lot more area to work with,” says Tremblay. The challenge these lenses bring with them, however, is comfort, as they impede the amount of oxygen reaching the eye.