• Date: October 10, 2019

Presbyopia causes the gradual loss of the eye’s ability to focus clearly on close objects. It is a natural part of the aging process and in fact, by the age of 45, every person has it to a degree. Until now, all corrective treatments—whether lenses or surgery—have been static and enabled clear vision only at certain distance, without allowing the eye to regain its former ability to focus.

LightLens, a CaixaImpulse Validate 2019 project, aims to develop the first intraocular lens that restores the accommodating ability of the eye. Led by Susana Marcos, along with a team of researchers from CSIC’s VioBioLab, their innovative device will be implanted to replace the crystalline lens that has lost its elasticity with presbyopia. What sets it apart from existing corrective lenses, both intraocular and otherwise, is that LightLens can change its curvature, thus mimicking the dynamic focusing ability of the young eye.

How does LightLens work?

Susana explains that her lab has worked out how to capture the forces produced by the ciliary muscle—the ring-shaped structure which controls the shape of the crystalline lens to focus on near or far objects. They do so by fixing the periphery of their elastic lens to the ciliary muscle using a novel light-activated technique (hence the name "LightLens"). Thus, the actions of the ciliary muscle are transmitted into the implanted lens, allowing it to accommodate and adjust just as the young eye does.

In these early developmental stages, the team is planning to treat only presbyopia. But, as Susana points out, for an individual with more than one refractive error— myopia (near-sightedness) in addition to presbyopia—both conditions will be corrected. For all people with presbyopia, LightLens will be an opportunity to do away with glasses and contact lenses. With this comes greater independence and a better quality of life.

Could glasses and contact lenses someday become a thing of the past?

According to Susana, what we are going to see more of in the coming years is what she refers to as "lenses of the future". She explains, "They're not going to simply be materials or optics. I think they'll be combined with a new series of smart devices that will allow us to expand our possibilities." Beyond just correcting vision, these future lenses may be integrated with microelectronics, which could permit the controlled release of drugs, or measuring intraocular pressure, among a number of other potential applications. While glasses and contact lenses as we know them today will still be around for the foreseeable future, more and more corrective options will emerge, with distinctive capabilities.

LightLens could soon be among the first of these smart lenses to hit the market, ushering in a new era of optometry. With the support of CaixaImpulse, it has begun the journey from a research project to a product—one with the potential to impact the lives of the estimated 1.8 billion people around the world living with presbyopia.

CaixaImpulse is an initiative of ”la Caixa” with the collaboration of Caixa Capital Risc and the support of EIT Health.

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