Researchers at Caltech developed glowing contact lenses to help people suffering from diabetic retinopathy.
A team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has reportedly developed glowing contact lenses that could prevent vision loss in people with diabetes. The new technology reportedly uses the same tech found in luminous wrist watches.
To date, millions of people are suffering from diabetes worldwide, many of which are at high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This is a condition usually associated with diabetes in its more advanced stages.
Loss of vision in people with diabetes is the result of the damage inflicted by the disease in the tiny blood vessels within the body, including those in our eyes. The damage causes reduced blood flow to the retina’s nerve cells which often leads to their eventual death.
Current treatments for this diabetes-related blindness involve painful and invasive eyeball surgical procedures using lasers and injections. The new treatment developed by the Caltech researchers is reportedly much more benign.
According to Colin Cook, a Caltech graduate student who led the development of the glowing contact lenses, this treatment offers a better non-invasive alternative to current diabetes-induced blindness treatment methods.
The lenses work by giving the affected eyes rod cells. These, in turn, provide vision in low-light conditions with a faint amount of light as the person sleeps.
“Your rod cells, as it turns out, consume about twice as much oxygen in the dark as they do in the light,” Cook said. “If we turn metabolism in the retina down, we should be able to prevent some of the damage that occurs.”
For the lenses to provide light to the retina during the night, the researchers utilized the luminous technology in wrist watches. The light comes from tiny vials that are filled with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen gas that produces electrons as it decays. The electrons are then turned into light by a phosphorescent coating. This ensures the constant supply of light during the contact lenses’ lifetime.
The contact lenses have been tested in collaboration with Mark Humayun’s laboratory at the University of Southern California. The results of the initial testing are said to be promising, with the rod cell activity reduced by nearly 90 percent when worn in the dark. The researchers seek FDA permits to begin clinical trials.