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New Contact Lens Technology Could Change the Lives of Glaucoma Patients and Their Doctors

Posted on November 16, 2016 by Glaucoma Research Foundation
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For glaucoma patients, the morning routine may never be the same. Why? No more eye drops. Instead, glaucoma patients could potentially insert drug-dispensing contact lenses and get on with their day. Thanks to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which recently developed drug-dispensing contact lenses to make it easier for patients to take their medicine, treatment could be that easy. What’s more, researchers at Columbia University have developed an easier way to monitor the progress of the disease, as well as the effectiveness of drug treatments, using a contact lens that can sense, in real time, the curvature of the eye and relate that data to interior eye pressure.

If pursued and supported, these exciting developments could make life both easier and more pleasant for glaucoma patients everywhere.

Treating Glaucoma with Drug-Dispensing Contact Lenses

The researchers created contact lenses equipped with a drug-polymer film along the edge of the lens that slowly dispenses latanoprost—a drug usually prescribed for glaucoma patients—onto the surface of the eye. Because the drug film is on the edge, the center of the lens is clear, allowing for everything you would expect from a good contact lens, and eliminating much of the hassle associated with using eye drops. That’s the theory, and it all looks good on paper, but could it really work?

The answer is yes, it could work. In fact, it already has worked. According to the researchers, contact lenses with lower dose films delivered the same amount of eye pressure reduction as standard latanoprost drops, while lenses delivering higher doses offered better pressure reduction than the drops. For glaucoma patients unhappy with their eye drops, that is good news. However, before this type of contact lens hits the market, more research is needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this therapy.

Monitoring Glaucoma Progression with Contact Lenses

Meanwhile, things are moving along on the diagnosis and monitoring side. Glaucoma patients and their doctors have long wished that there was a way to see how the disease was changing the eye in time to react before too much damage was done. Current methods often make it difficult to get ahead of the disease, but now, researchers may have developed a way to do just that with a “smart” contact lens that can detect pressure changes inside the eye in real time. This means faster and more accurate assessments for glaucoma patients.

Here’s how it works: A sensor detects changes in the curve of the eye. As eye pressure changes, the curve changes, generating an electrical signal sent to a wireless device that records the signals. The profile of signals indirectly shows eye pressure changes over time, which is linked to progression of the disease.1

Forty patients between the ages forty and eighty-nine, all undergoing treatment for open-angle glaucoma, were accepted into the study. Over a period of two years, researchers performed at least eight standard visual field tests on these patients. Half were classified as having slow disease progression, while the others had fast disease progression. The patients then wore a smart contact lens for twenty-four hours, including overnight as they slept. Researchers found that patients with steeper changes recorded overnight, and a greater number of changes in their signal profile overall, tended to have faster glaucoma progression.

This real-time data represents a significant advantage over what we have today. Patients would have a better understanding of their disease, and their doctors would be able to better tailor treatments to their needs because they would be able to see more quickly whether a new medication is working for their patient.

With financial support, these new and exciting contact lens technologies could make it easier for patients to comply with their medication plans and monitor both the progress of the disease and the efficacy of newly prescribed drugs. In time, researchers may even find a way to combine these two new technologies to create a single convenient device, capable of performing both drug delivery and pressure tests.

Investing in innovative research is Glaucoma Research Foundation’s mission. By donating to GRF and becoming a Vision Advocate, you can help support research that will improve the lives of today’s patients and give them hope for a future without glaucoma.

1 Visual Field Change and 24-Hour IOP-Related Profile with a Contact Lens Sensor in Treated Glaucoma Patients Presented at: American Glaucoma Society Annual Meeting, February 2015, Coronado, California. Carlos Gustavo De Moraes, MD, MPH, Jessica V. Jasien, MEn, Sonja Simon-Zoula, PhD, Jeffrey M. Liebmann, MD, Robert Ritch, MD

Last reviewed on November 18, 2016

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