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A brand new contact lens designed to help people with iris issues was just revealed at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco. These smart contacts, which were developed by a Belgian team at the University of Ghent, are expected to help many people around the world who have iris impairments due either to physical trauma or illness.
These special lenses are designed with concentric LCDs, which help the contacts naturally expand and contract. In case you didn't know, a healthy iris handles the expansion and contraction of the eye's pupil.
The three LCDs on these contacts are right above the pupil. Under bright light conditions, researchers have shown that these LCDs work to narrow the opening in the pupil. Darker light immediately turns the LCDs off and allows the pupil to have a naturally expansive field of vision. In order to better control these LCDs, researchers have placed organic solar cells and control electronics around them.
In addition to acting as a substitute iris, researchers hope these smart contacts will be able to do much more in the future. For example, some designers want to add antennas, batteries, chemical sensors, and control electronics to these contacts to make them have even more capabilities.
The iris is the colored circle in the eyeball that's around the pupil. A healthy iris should naturally contract when put under bright light, and it should expand in dim light. The contraction helps to shield the retina from light damage, and the expansion helps us see clearer in darker areas. People with damaged irises can experience painful sensations in bright locations.
Most eye doctors tell patients with iris problems to wear good sunglasses to avoid the painful symptoms that often occur on sunny days. However, wearing sunglasses doesn't work effectively for many patients, and the Belgian researchers feel being able to directly constrict the pupil via a contact lens would be more effective for helping people with iris problems.
In terms of aesthetics, the researchers said they believe they could use organic photovoltaics to make the color of a person's irises look natural. However, the professors admitted that they haven't been focusing on aesthetics technology yet.
The researchers who presented their smart contact technology in San Francisco believe around 200,000 people with iris problems can see an improvement in their symptoms by using these contacts.The main causes for iris damage include injury, genetics, and cancer.
While this technology is impressive, it's a long way from being released to the general public.
The main concern doctors have with these lenses is whether or not they are safe enough for public use. These Belgian researchers will need to show that the electronics in their contacts don't interfere negatively with the water and oxygen transferred from the lens to the cornea.
The head researcher on these smart contacts is Dr. Herbert De Smet. Dr. De Smet was born and raised in the city of Ghent, Belgium, and received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Ghent University. Ever since graduating in 1994, Dr. De Smet has become the Director of the Mid-Europe chapter of the Society for Information Display and the Editor in Chief of the Journal of the Society for Information Display. Dr. De Smet now works as a professor at Ghent University and has written over 200 articles in various medical journals.