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A postgraduate research student, Devesh Mistry, in the University of Leeds School of Physics and Astronomy, UK, is working with liquid crystal to create a truly adjustable artificial eye lens, made from the same material found in smartphone and TV screens. The new lens, he said, could restore sightedness caused by presbyopia. Presbyopia, which is common in people over 45 years old, can require the use of optical aids, such as reading glasses.

Fig. 1 – Liquid crystal being tested under heating. (Credit: University of Leeds)
Mistry explained: “As we get older, the lens in our eye stiffens, when the muscles in the eye contract they can no longer shape the lens to bring close objects into focus. Using liquid crystals, which we probably know better as the material used in the screens of TVs and smartphones, lenses would adjust and focus automatically, depending on the eye muscles’ movement.”

How It Would Work

Using liquid crystal-based materials, Mistry is developing a new generation of synthetic replacement lenses and intraocular lens implants to rejuvenate sight. He is researching and developing the lens in the lab and aims to have a prototype ready by the end of his doctorate in 2018. (See Figure 1)

The research could see the new lens being implanted into eyes in a quick and straightforward surgical procedure under local anesthetic. Mistry said that the first commercially available liquid crystal lenses could be available for sale within ten years’ time.

Eye surgeons would make an incision in the cornea and use ultrasound to break down the old lens. The liquid crystal lens would then be inserted, restoring clear vision, and potentially eliminating the need for reading glasses. The lens could also be useful in combating cataracts, which affect many people in later life and which can seriously affect vision. A common treatment is to remove and replace the natural lens.

Fig. 2 – A prototype of an electrically switchable contact lens previously developed by the same group of collaborators. The lens makes use of liquid crystals, a material used in the vast majority of TV and smartphone screens
“Liquid crystals are a very underrated phase of matter,” Mistry said. “Everybody’s happy with solids, liquids, gases, and the phases of matter, but liquid crystals lie between crystalline solids and liquids. They have an ordered structure like a crystal, but they can also flow like a liquid and respond to stimuli.”

Mistry is working in collaboration with the Eurolens Research at the University of Manchester and with UltraVision CLPL, a specialist contact lenses manufacturer. His research builds upon previous work by the same collaborators, who developed a prototype contact lens with an electrically-controllable focus using liquid crystals. (See Figure 2)