Glowing contact lenses: the next bright development for eye health and type 1 diabetes?

Posted on 11 May 2018

Glowing contact lens which can prevent blindness for people with diabetes
The contact lenses glow in the dark, and could help to protect the eyes.

Researchers have designed special contact lenses that could boost eye health for people living with type 1 diabetes.

Advances in care over the last 35 years have already meant that the risk of vision loss in type 1 diabetes has been cut from 50 per cent to just 5 per cent.

The glowing lenses could be the next success story in eye health research. The lenses are designed to be worn overnight, and interrupt the process that damages cells in the retina.

If further testing goes well, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) team behind the research plans to seek approval to begin clinical trials of this innovative treatment in the USA.

Why did they develop these lenses?

Whilst effective, current treatments for diabetic retinopathy can be painful and invasive. The team of researchers therefore decided to develop a more comfortable and convenient way of protecting and treating eyes.

How do the lenses work?

Damage to the cells in the retina (that we need to be able to see) occurs due to not having enough oxygen.

Certain retinal cells take up much more oxygen in the dark than in the light. The gentle glowing of the lenses reduces the amount of oxygen that these retinal cells need, allowing the oxygen to be used by other retinal cells more important for vision.

The team say that early lab tests have shown promising results, with the oxygen need reduced by up to 90 percent.

Importantly, the soft glow should not interrupt sleep, as the lenses sit directly on the eye. This means that the light from the lenses would move simultaneously with the eye, avoiding any flickering that could make sleeping harder.

What does this mean for type 1?

Vision loss is a feared complication of type 1 diabetes. A simple preventative measure, like these overnight contact lenses, would increase the quality of life for people living with type 1 diabetes, and lead to greater peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones.

The lenses are still in the early stages of development, but lab leader Professor Yu-Chong Tai is optimistic:

“This is an innovative solution with a potentially huge impact on diabetic retinopathy.”

What’s the next step?

In the next few months, the team will carry out further tests with the lenses to see if their use can prevent diabetic retinopathy. If successful, the team hope to proceed with clinical trials.

Type 1 diabetes research in a laboratory

Want more news like this?

Sign up to our e-newsletter to receive news like this straight into your inbox

Sign up now