A group of researchers from the university of Ghent and the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (imec) in Leuven this week presented a new electronic contact lens that imitates perfectly the human iris.
The new development will be of use to people who have damaged or lost their iris – the part of the eye that opens and closes to control the amount of light reaching the retina. It is also the structure that gives the eye its colour.
The lens is a project of Azalea Vision, a spin-off from imec and the university, and was developed together with the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Madrid, and Holst Centre, which brings together imec and TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.
The iris is based on a series of concentric rings built on an LCD and run on ultra-low power to keep it operating all day. The researchers estimate there are some 20 million people worldwide who might benefit from the lens to deal with conditions such as aniridia (the absence of an iris), keratoconus (a thinning of the cornea which encases the eyeball), and light sensitivity, which is highly prevalent in patients with chronic migraine.
At present, those people resort to a lens with a fixed iris, iris implants or glasses with variable transparency, none of which functions fully like the natural iris.
“Our smart contact lens can control the level of incoming light mimicking a human iris and offering a potential solution to vision correction – by expanding depth-of-field with automatic control of pupil size,” said the project’s lead researcher, Professor Andrés Vásquez Quintero.
“This way, our approach can surpass current solutions to combat human eye iris deficiencies. Its beneficial optical effects will be further clinically validated and developed into a medical device.”