Engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have just developed a novel eye implant that could help glaucoma patients monitor intraocular pressure (IOP) levels. Interestingly, scientists studied butterfly wings to design this new implant.
The Caltech team’s implant, which is made of a transparent photonic nanostructure, is extremely thin and flexible. According to the scientists’ report, this implant flexes every time IOP increases. Doctors can measure a patient’s IOP by taking a reading of the implant’s cavity depth.
Researchers said they used the wings of the longtail glasswing butterfly as inspiration for their new device. Specifically, researchers were interested in replicating how these butterflies’ wings retain their clarity by deflecting light.
Caltech professors recently tested the efficacy of these lenses on a group of rabbits. Results from this study suggested the eye implant had more accurate IOP readings than standard rebound tonometry methods. There’s no word when these implants will be tested on humans or when they will be released to the general public.
Glaucoma is a serious eye disorder that causes a person’s retinae to deteriorate over time. Oftentimes people have glaucoma but don’t notice any visual symptoms. An elevated IOP level is a telltale sign of heightened glaucoma risk.
Recent estimates suggest about 6 million people around the world are blind in both eyes from glaucoma. Doctors urge everyone over the age of 40 to get a visual screening at least once a year to keep tabs on this disorder.
While there’s no cure for glaucoma, there are many ways doctors can slow down a patient’s symptoms. Common therapies for glaucoma include laser eye surgery, IOP-reducing drops, and vitamin supplementation.
Dr. Hyuck Choo, who teaches electrical engineering at Caltech, was the lead author on this study. A few other major researchers involved in this project include Drs. Vinayak Narasimhan, Radwanul Hasan Siddique, and Jeong Oen Lee.
Anyone interested in this fascinating research should check out the latest edition of Nature Nanotechnology magazine. This study was published under the title, “Multifunctional biophotonic nanostructures inspired by the longtail glasswing butterfly for medical devices.”