- Tests: Lenses 'at least as good 'as regular eye drops at treating glaucoma
- Condition is the second biggest cause of blindness worldwide
- Drug-filled eye drops can slow progression but many don't like them
- Lenses contain a drug that is released slowly and steadily over 100 days
Glaucoma patients may soon be able to swap fiddly eye drops for state-of-the-art contact lenses.
Doctors have invented lenses that slowly dispense medication into the eye.
In animal tests, they have been at least as good as traditional eye drops at treating glaucoma, the second biggest cause of blindness worldwide.
The US researchers said if further tests prove the lenses’ worth, millions of people’s sight could be spared.
Doctors have invented lenses that slowly dispense medication into the eye. The drug is packed into a film that releases it slowly and steadily for up to 100 days
With glaucoma, a build-up of pressure damages the optic nerve, the vital link between the eye and brain.
Eye drops can’t repair the damage but they can stop it from getting worse.
However, they are unpopular with patients, who find them difficult to self-administer and complain the medicine burns and stings.
As a result, as few as half of patients use the drops properly.
Scientists have tried to make drug-dispensing contact lenses before, but have struggled to control the rate at which the medicine is released.
Now, researchers from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary have packed the drug in a polymer film that releases it slowly and steadily for up to 100 days.
The drug-polymer film sits at the edge of the lens, leaving the centre clear enough to see through.
In tests on monkeys with glaucoma, lenses that dispensed a low dose of the glaucoma drug latanoprost were just as good as drops at reducing the damaging pressure rise in the eye.
And lenses packed with a high dose of drug were better, the journal Ophthalmology reports.
Drug-filled eye drops can slow progression of the condition glaucoma, but many people don't like them as they are fiddly
Researcher Dr Joseph Ciolino said: ‘Based on our preliminary data, the lenses have not only the potential to improve compliance for patients, but also the potential of providing better pressure reduction than the drops.’
‘If we can address the problem of compliance, we may help patients adhere to the therapy necessary to maintain vision in diseases like glaucoma, saving millions from preventable blindness.
‘This study also raises the possibility that we may have an option for glaucoma that's more effective than what we have today.’
Trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the lenses in people are being planned.
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