A partnership lead by Imec has developed a smart contact lens that features an artificial iris. This iris has a functioning aperture that enhances visual sharpness and depth-of-field as well as limits the amount of light allowed into the eye. The new contact lens could potentially restore normal vision in patients with disorders of the iris or lack of function due to other conditions that affect the eyes.

Patients with conditions such as aniridia — in which the iris is absent — or keratoconus — a disease of the cornea that causes light sensitivity — could benefit from the new smart lens. Other eye disorders and some conditions not related to the eyes, such as migraines, can also cause photophobia: a symptom of extreme light sensitivity. Patients with photophobia could also wear the new lenses to reduce the amount of light that enters their pupils.

These patients’ current options include contacts with a fixed iris, iris implants, or glasses with light-activated variable transparency. These options don’t mimic the iris’ full natural function; users may still have limited depth-of-field and other vision impairments. The smart contact lens features a flexible, miniaturized liquid crystal display (LCD). The LCD is attuned to open and close tiny concentric rings embedded within the lens, closely approximating the natural iris’ function. The low-power smart lens operates for a full day without needing to recharge. 

Imec, a research and development hub focused on digital technology and nanoelectronics, worked with the Centre for Microsystems Technology, an affiliate research lab at Ghent University in Belgium, and partners from the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Spain and the Holst Centre in the Netherlands. The team published their work in a recent paper in the journal Scientific Reports from Nature. The team will continue to develop the technology and seek clinical validation through an incubation project funded by imec.xpand.