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									Implantable Contact Lens, Vision Cooperative Research Centre

Royal Societies of Australia Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Prize of $10,000

Wed 10 August 2004

The world's first implantable contact lens The inventors of a world-first implantable contact lens have taken out the $10,000 Royal Societies of Australia Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. Glued on to permanently fix poor eyesight, the revolutionary lens offers a new solution for long and short-sighted people, who currently have to rely on glasses, conventional contact lenses or laser surgery. Researchers from the Vision Cooperative Research Centre (Vision CRC) Implantable Contact Lens Project have spent 15 years developing the device, and are about to embark on tests in human patients. "We've designed another way of offering people a permanent means of correcting their vision," says the Centre's CEO, Associate Professor Deborah Sweeney. And the procedure is reversible. The implantable device is made from a high-tech plastic developed by the CRC, known as PFPE polymer. To implant the lens, surgeons scrape away the cells of the cornea and literally stick the device on with special glue. "It's like a post-it note concept with its glue on the back surface," Professor Sweeney says. "After removing the front cell layers of the cornea, the device is placed on the tissue. The cells then grow back and hold the lens in place so it becomes a part of your body." The procedure takes about half an hour, and is less invasive than laser surgery. Once in, the lens stays put with no need for daily use of sterile solutions. It's the first time researchers have been able to make a implantable contact lens out of a material that allows nutrients and oxygen to flow through and doesn't interfere with normal functioning of the cornea. "This development represents a quantum leap in the 40 year history of contact lens development," says Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum. The potential demand for the lenses is huge. Globally, some 2.5 billion people need some form of vision correction, while about $110 million is spent on contact lenses and laser surgery in Australia each year. "The $10,000 Royal Societies of Australia Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Scientific Research is awarded to a partnership, group, team or organisation for outstanding scientific research that involves the active collaboration and/or cooperation of scientists in two or more disciplines. We're grateful for the support of the Royal Societies of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia," says Howarth. ****************

For more information contact Kylie Evans, Vision CRC on +612 9385 7406 Email: k.evans@visioncrc.org

Implantable Contact Lens, Vision Cooperative Research Centre

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE RESEARCH The implantable contact lens (or corneal onlay) is a breakthrough synthetic device designed to permanently correct long and short-sightedness by altering corneal curvature. Implantation of the lens is less invasive than laser surgery and is reversible which means that the lens can be removed or replaced as visual needs change over time. Success of an implantable contact lens hinges on the properties of the synthetic lens, development of a minimally invasive surgical model and on a thorough understanding of the biological and physical interactions between synthetic materials and corneal tissue. The simple procedure for implantation of the lens involves removing the topmost cells at the surface of the eye (corneal epithelium), and adhering the lens to the epithelium with a glue. Epithelial cells then regrow over the synthetic lens through normal regenerative processes (see Figure 1). The procedure is less invasive than laser surgery because no tissue is removed from the stroma and there is no permanent damage.

Implantable contact lenses need to be biocompatible, and remain stable and optically clear after implantation. Key features of the implantable lens are that it must not interfere with the normal functioning of the epithelium or other layers of the cornea. The lens must maintain normal flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the cornea and support the best possible attachment and regrowth of epithelium. Lenses need to be easy to implant and the material needs to satisfy a broad range of optical and manufacturing requirements to ensure excellent optics and reproducibility. The Vision CRC Implantable Contact Lens is now in an advanced stage of development. Previous research has focussed on understanding the fundamental criteria necessary for a successful implantable lens and in developing a suitable polymer material and surface coating to meet these criteria. This work resulted in selection of a biocompatible and porous perfluoropolyether (PFPE) polymer bulk material with a type 1 collagen coating to stimulate stable and firm attachment of epithelial tissue over the lens. More recent research has focussed on demonstrating that a synthetic lens can remain stable and optically clear after implantation with complete epithelial cell regrowth over the lens. This involved optimising the lens material and surface characteristics, demonstrating biocompatibility, optimising the optical design using mathematical models, glue development and refining the surgical model to include the glue to hold the synthetic lens in place after implantation.

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