It's a fact of life that as we age, our eyes age too. Bifocals and cataract surgery are in the cards for basically all of us if we want to continue seeing well beyond middle age. Luckily, science and technology have brought us those types of solutions that allow humans to keep their vision throughout our lives and new innovations might make it even easier to keep seeing the world around us.
A post-graduate student at the University of Leeds has developed an implantable liquid crystal eye lens that would replace the natural eye lens in older people. Past the age of 45, the eye lens loses flexibility and elasticity which leads to a condition called presbyopia, or age-related far-sightedness. The solution has been reading glasses or bifocals if you also have near-sightedness.
Devesh Mistry, who is getting his doctorate from the School of Physics and Astronomy, used liquid crystals, the technology in most of our electronics' displays, to create a truly adjustable artificial lens to replace the diseased lens.
“As we get older, the lens in our eye stiffens, when the muscles in the eye contract they can no longer shape the lens to bring close objects into focus,” Mistry said.
“Using liquid crystals, which we probably know better as the material used in the screens of TVs and smartphones, lenses would adjust and focus automatically, depending on the eye muscles’ movement.”
“Liquid crystals are a very under-rated phase of matter,” Mistry told The Times, “Everybody’s happy with solids, liquids and gases and the phases of matter, but liquid crystals lie between crystalline solids and liquids. They have an ordered structure like a crystal, but they can also flow like a liquid and respond to stimuli.”
Mistry says he will have a working prototype lens ready by the end of his doctorate in 2018 and the lens could be ready for use in patients within the next six to ten years.
The procedure to insert the lens would be as quick as cataract surgery is today. The patient would be given a local anesthetic and the surgeon would make an incision in the cornea and use ultrasound to break down the old lens. Then the liquid crystal lens would be inserted and the patient would have clear vision again. The procedure would also cure cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens.
Mistry has worked on this project with Eurolens Research at the University of Manchester and UltraVision CLPL, a company focused on advanced contact lenses. This group of collaborators has also previously developed an electrically-switchable contact lens that uses liquid crystal technology.
This new artificial lens is just the latest in a string of high-tech solutions to cure vision problems. It seems clear that in the near future, bionic eyes will be a reality.