Exciting news for those that suffer from Age-Related Macular Degeneration! A team of researchers recently announced a potentially life-changing new contact lenses design that they believe will dramatically help improve the sight of those suffering from AMD. The slender lenses allow patients to easily switch between their normal vision and the magnified vision these new telescopic contact lenses provide.
Their research, published in the journal Optics Express, at this point is preliminary, so don't expect your ophthalmologist to give you these new telescopic contact lenses at your next appointment. However, rest assured as the researchers believe these contact lenses will "make AMD a little less debilitating," according to researcher and co-author Eric Tremblay. He adds that for a visual aid of this nature to be widely accepted, it needs to be "highly convenient and unobtrusive," and acknowledges that this current prototype needs some further modifications.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a widespread eye condition that slowly destroys the macula, the area of the eye that provides sharp focus. It is currently estimated that over 2 million people are affected by this condition in the United States alone. Over time as your vision gradually fades away, the simplest tasks that seem like second nature will become more and more difficult to accomplish.
The new telescopic contact lenses being tested by Ford's team utilizes small mirror surfaces incorporated into them that replicate a telescope. The lenses feature two parts, a center that does not change your vision, as well as a spherical-shaped "telescope" on the outside edge that allows patients' vision to be magnified 2.8 times.
Switching back and forth between the two types of vision is easy, just not very fashionable. Patients would need to put on a special pair of glasses normally used for 3D TVs. Made with liquid crystals, these glasses will electrically alter the direction of polarized light, which would then allow patients to switch between magnified and unmagnified vision at their leisure.
At this point, it appears that the telescopic contact lenses have yet to be tested on a real person. Alternatively, the research team has elected to test their design through computer modeling and fabricating the contact lens. They started by creating a life-sized model of the eye that could take images through the telescopic contact lens system. Initial tests found that the image quality and overall field of view was better than other magnification processes previously tried for AMD.
The downside, however, was the way these contact lenses were created. The team used a stout material called polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), because it was durable enough to put much needed microscopic grooves in the lenses. Unfortunately, the material chosen for the initial design is not the ideal material for widespread, mainstream use amongst patients.
The research team is currently in the process of redesigning the telescopic contact lens using gas-permeable materials, as well as attempting to incorporate air-channels in hopes to remove the current limitations on thickness and permeability. If successful, this enhanced design will allow patients to wear them for longer durations of time, thus improving their overall treatment for macular degeneration at least until a more long-term treatment for AMD presents itself.
"In the future, it will hopefully be possible to go after the core of the problem with effective treatments or retinal prosthetics. The ideal is really for magnifiers to become unnecessary. Until we get there, however, contact lenses may provide a way to make AMD a little less debilitating," co-author Eric Tremblay.
For anybody interested in diving deeper into this research, you can access the full research paper here (PDF).