Anyone who wears prescription eyeglasses knows the struggle with exposure to bright light. Thanks to the invention of transition lenses, it is already possible to wear prescription sunglasses under the glare of the hot sun. This possibility had not been explored in contact lenses until November 2009 when researchers in Singapore started developing photochromatic contact lenses. These lenses, like regular transition eyeglasses, will darken when exposed to UV light and return to normal when no longer exposed.
The technology behind UV responsive contact lenses
The key to this development is the use of a new kind of polymer covered with a complicated network of nano-sized tunnels which can be covered with dyes. One of the main challenges faced while developing this technology was the difficulty of applying uniform coats of dye throughout the soft surface of contact lenses. These successes and challenges in research and development are rewarded through the UK R&D tax scheme. Companies within the country use an R&D calculator to calculate tax credits for innovative activities similar to this.
By creating the nanostructure, scientists were able to overcome the initial challenges and were therefore capable of finally developing a lens material that can hold the dye so that the lens can transform from light to dark. This structure also allows the dyes to react quickly with a response time of only 10 to 20 seconds. This makes the lens ideal for when the wearer has to move from a dark to bright environment in a matter of seconds.
Making the technology a reality
After the initial research and testing, the technology is now ready to be transformed into actual consumer products that can be bought by the general public. The company Johnson & Johnson has picked up the development of photochromatic lenses that will instantly darken upon contact with UV light. This product development was made in partnership with Transitions Optical. The product will be called Acuvue Oasys With Transitions.
As a consumer product, the aim is for the lenses to be reused for a maximum of two weeks. The transition will also be quick and seamless for the user. However, these lenses are not meant to replace traditional sunglasses that protect the entire eye area. The lenses will only cover the pupil and protect it from direct UV light. After numerous clinical trials, the product has already received a go signal from the US Food and Drug Administration where it is slated for commercial release during the first half of 2019.
This further research and development in optical technology benefit a majority of the population who depend on prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. Making this technology commercially available to the general public can be considered another step forward, with a focus on improving the quality of life of many people.