LONDON (TIP): Your eyes could soon become a high-tech information centre that tracks changes and tells you when it’s time to see an eye doctor. Scientists from the University of Washington have designed a lowpower sensor that could be placed permanently in a person’s eye to track hard-to-measure changes in eye pressure. The sensor would be embedded with an artificial lens during cataract surgery and would detect pressure changes instantaneously and then transmit the data wirelessly using radio frequency waves.
“No one has ever put electronics inside the lens of the eye, so this is a little more radical,” said Karl Bohringer, a UW professor of electrical engineering and of bioengineering. “We have shown this is possible in principle. If you can fit this sensor device into an intraocular lens implant during cataract surgery, it won’t require any further surgery for patients.” Scientists were looking to keep a close watch over eye pressure for management of glaucoma, one of the major reasons for blindness across the globe. It is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can cause blindness.
Right now there are two ways to check eye pressure, but both require a visit to the ophthalmologist. But if ophthalmologists could insert a pressure monitoring system during cataract surgery – now a common procedure performed on 3 million to 4 million people each year to remove blurry vision or glare caused by a hazy lens – that could save patients from a second surgery and essentially make their replacement lens “smarter” and more functional. The UW engineering team built a prototype that uses radio frequency for wireless power and data transfer.
A thin, circular antenna spans the perimeter of the device – roughly tracing a person’s iris – and harnesses enough energy from the surrounding field to power a small pressure sensor chip. The chip communicates with a close-by receiver about any shifts in frequency which signifies a change in pressure. Actual pressure is then calculated and those changes are tracked and recorded in real-time. The current prototype is larger than it would need to be to fit into an artificial lens, but the research team is confident it can be downscaled through more engineering.