Over the past few years, we’ve heard about several experimental devices that monitor the pressure in glaucoma patients’ eyes. The miLens contact lens – which is the latest one to cross our radar – has just completed clinical trials, and could be commercially available as soon as next year.
Glaucoma occurs when a blockage in the eye’s drainage channels causes aqueous humor fluid to accumulate within the eye faster than it can drain out. This increases intraocular pressure (IOP) which may in turn damage the optic nerve, causing blindness.
And while there are eye-drop medications that help reduce IOP, they work best if the dosage is continuously modified based on the current amount of pressure in the eye.
Ordinarily, that pressure has to be checked every few months by a specialist in a clinic. The problem is, the IOP could get dangerously high between those checks – that’s where the miLens is designed to come in.
The product is being developed by California-based startup Smartlens, and is based on a prototype glaucoma-monitoring implant that was previously created at Stanford University. That said, while the Stanford device had to be surgically (and thus permanently) placed in the eye, the miLens is a soft contact lens which is put in and taken out on a daily basis, like any other.
Incorporated into the device is a sealed microfuidic channel which runs around the perimeter of the wearer’s iris in a ring – it doesn’t appear in their vision. That channel is partially filled with a non-toxic liquid, and has graduated numerical markings which indicate IOP measurement units.
As the user’s intraocular pressure increases, it causes their cornea to bulge out and press on the miLens. That pressure forces the liquid in the lens up through the channel – the greater the pressure, the farther the liquid will go. Utilizing a third-party camera, users get a close-up shot of the miLens. By seeing what number on the channel the liquid has reached, they get a real-time IOP reading when and wherever they wish.
In a recent clinical trial, in which the device was used by 25 glaucoma patients, readings from the miLens were found to closely correspond to those obtained via the gold-standard Goldmann applanation tonometry (GAT) technique. More specifically, 78% of the miLens readings were within just 2 mmHg (milligrams of mercury) of the GAT readings.
Smartlens CEO Savas Komban tells us that the miLens should hit the market by the end of 2024 “at an affordable price level.” The company is also working on a “smart glass” device called THERmic which will work in combination with the miLens, automatically delivering glaucoma medication to the eyes as needed.
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