Vital Signs

Contact lens with built-in telescope could help people with blinding disease

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Telescopic contact lenses are being developed to magnify vision in the visually impaired

Combined with LCD glasses, the lenses let users switch between regular and magnified vision with a wink

CNN  — 

Lights, mirrors, action! Scientists are developing smart contact lenses embedded with miniscule mirrors that can magnify your vision by almost three times.

The 1.55mm-thick lenses incorporate a thin reflective telescope made of mirrors and filters; when light enters the eye it bounces off the series of mirrors and increases the perceived view of an object or person. It is hoped that the lens will improve the sight of people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the third leading cause of blindness globally.

AMD causes the loss of central vision due to gradual damage to the eye’s retina and there are few options for cure or treatment. “AMD is the biggest problem where magnification is a proven visual aid,” says Eric Tremblay, research scientist at EPFL in Switzerland.

Tremblay led the optical design of the lens, which is based on a surgically implantable telescope currently used by some patients with AMD, but which is more invasive than a lens. “With a contact lens, it’s easy to try it,” says Tremblay.

Making the switch

A key innovation with the lenses is the added ability to switch between magnified and regular vision through a complementary pair of glasses. The battery-powered glasses use LCD technology to watch the movement of the eye and a simple wink can alter their polarization and determine whether light entering is magnified or not. “Having the ability to switch on demand is attractive,” says Tremblay.

The ability to selectively magnify your vision makes the design of the glass-lens combination more suitable for daily life. “When mag