Blink twice and your contact lens zooms in on what you’re looking at. Sounds futuristic, but it’s not as far down the road as you might think.
Scientists have been making contact lenses do all kinds of cool stuff recently.
For example, South Korean researchers have developed a “smart” contact lens that can monitor blood sugar levels in diabetics. It uses built-in wireless sensors to measure sugar levels in the wearer’s tears, which correspond directly to levels in the blood.
These researchers aren’t the first to make such a lens. But they say this new lens is better than previous models because it feels more comfortable and won’t hurt the eye. They achieved this by using highly stretchable, see-through nanomaterials.
Reliably measuring blood sugar levels continuously like this, without the painful pin pricks, would be a huge win for diabetics.
Unfortunately, the lens hasn’t been tested on humans yet, so it’ll be a while before it’s available to the public.
That’s not the case for the next contact lens, which is already for sale in Asia.
In 2018, Swiss company Sensimed announced that its Triggerfish sensor and monitoring system for glaucoma patients had been registered as a medical device in Japan.
Glaucoma puts pressure on the optic nerve through fluid build-up. Highly sensitive platinum strain gauges in the Triggerfish record changes in the curvature of the cornea, which corresponds directly to the pressure inside the eye.
This disposable soft contact lens is worn just once, for a 24-hour period. The patient repeats the process once or twice a year.
The point is to let doctors know what time of day each patient should take his or her glaucoma medication, because the timing of these drugs is very important and varies from patient to patient.
Another new contact lens innovation, one that all of us could use, comes from a research team at the University of California, San Diego: They have created a robotic soft contact lens that lets you zoom in and out by blinking twice.
The lens is controlled by electro-oculographic signals—in other words, the eye movement of the wearer.
These electrical signals enable the lens, which is made out of stretchy, electro-active polymer films, to expand and change focal length and motion.
The idea is to make the lens so sensitive that it can discern subtle changes in eye movement and translate them into action: blink twice to zoom in, look down to focus on nearby objects, and so forth.
In their paper in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers write that “the system developed in the current study has the potential to be used in visual prostheses, adjustable glasses, and remotely operated robotics in the future.”
One medical application for the zoom lens would be a device for patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the biggest causes of blindness in older people.
As with the blood sugar-measuring lens, this one will take some years before it’s on the market as well... so there’s no immediate investment potential.
However, there is one company that is making progress in the field that you may want to look at. Caveat: It’s a high-risk, potentially high-reward opportunity, so tread carefully and do your own due diligence in addition to what I’m about to tell you.
Second Sight Medical Products (EYES) is a tiny $99 million market cap company that’s developed a system called Argus II to help people with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa see again.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare, inherited eye disease that causes blindness.
Argus II is made up of a retinal implant, a miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses, and a small, patient-worn computer. The system stimulates the retina electrically to help patients “see” some of what’s around them.
Using the system, patients can recognize outlines of people and basic shapes, perceive movement, distinguish light patterns, and move through the world more independently.
Argus II user Lisa says the system improves her everyday life by helping her be more mobile. She says that when she’s walking down the street, she can now see “where the asphalt is compared to the grass because of the contrast. Or if there’s an obstacle in your way like a trash can or a car parked in the driveway, you can see that you’re coming up to something.”
Lisa also says: “Socially, it’s great. I can be around a bunch of people and not feel like I’m just there. I can look around the room and see, not necessarily who it is, but that there are people there, and I feel more a part of the conversation.”
That’s really cool.
But as great as Argus II has been for many retinitis pigmentosa patients, these patients only make up a tiny portion of the blind population.
So Second Sight is developing a new system, called Orion, which could provide a new form of vision to millions of individuals who are blind due to a wide range of causes.
If the company is successful, it would grow from a tiny $99 million market cap company into a multi-billion-dollar behemoth in short order.
That’s a big “if,” though. Second Sight has a lot of hurdles to overcome before it realizes its vision.
Then again, the stock is trading for less than $1 these days. So it might be worth buying a few shares. Your call.
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Editor, A Rich Life
Please note that the companies Chris mentions in A Rich Life are just meant to give you some ideas for your own research... not official investment recommendations. There’s no A Rich Life portfolio, and Chris doesn’t keep track of these companies.
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