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How do you cope with blindness after years of perfect sight? A combination of special contact lenses and glasses could allow some people to recapture their vision.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 50, according to the National Eye Institute, and can lead in visual blurriness so intense that it causes blindness. Living in a world perpetually out of focus, those who suffer from AMD have trouble recognizing faces, reading and can even experience distortions of light that look like perpetual spots or the reflection in a funhouse mirror. And, at this point, it’s incurable.
The difficulty of AMD is that is affects an area of the eye that traditional optical aids like glasses can’t help — the retina. As humans age, the ability for the retina to sense light and interpret images can wear out over time, which is why so many suffer from the condition.
While AMD has been alleviated over the years via a surgical implant, the great expense of the procedure often prohibits many from attempting it. But researchers at UC San Diego have figured out a low-cost, efficient way to help people with AMD see more clearly again: a telescopic, changeable contact lens. Measuring only 1.17 mm thick, the proof-of-concept system could be a low cost and flexible way for people to get their vision back.
Refined using a process called diamond turning, the contact lens itself offers a precise 2.2mm surface where users can see with regular vision. The telescopic part of the lens is actually folded back on itself, and activates 2.8x vision via a change in the polarization of light. Users wear the contacts as well as a pair of glasses that controls the light (and therefore the mode of the contacts). With one flick of a switch on the glasses, the light’s polarization changes and users see in the magnified vision. The changes between the two modes are quick and discreet, so users can adjust at their whim.
Currently, researchers are working on creating the concept out of more permeable materials to optimize comfort for users and taking advantage of more sophisticated materials to put the whole contact lens in one piece. This system obviously does not stop the degenerative properties of AMD, but it has the potential to help ease the debilitating vision loss that many already experience.