In pursuit of the perfect contact lens

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tucked away on the third floor of the School of Optometry, scientists are working hard at a world-renowned research centre.

Tucked away on the third floor of the School of Optometry, scientists are working hard at a world-renowned research centre. The Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR) investigates the ocular response to contact lenses and other forms of vision correction.

Craig Woods and Kathy Dumbleton conducting an eye experiment

It is the second-largest centre in the world for contact lens research and one of the few places at the university that conducts clinical research. The contact lens industry is big business:"More than 130 million people around the world wear them, including 12 per cent of all Canadians," says Desmond Fonn, who has been director of the CCLR since its founding in 1989.

With so many people wearing contact lenses, why is there a need for further research? It turns out that there is great potential for even more growth in the industry.

People who have worn contact lenses for years to correct distance vision are now finding, in middle age, that they need additional vision correction for their near vision. Companies, with help from the CCLR, are working hard to develop contact lenses that can effectively and comfortably correct both distance and near vision at the same time.

Another important area of research is making contact lenses more comfortable. Technology has made it possible to develop materials that are safer than ever before, but creating contact lenses that interact seamlessly with the surface of the eye is still a holy grail for the industry.

We need to improve the interaction between the lens and the eye," says Craig Woods, research manager of the CCLR. "We would like to get to a point where the eye will think the contact lens is part of the cornea.

The CCLR is also involved in developing more precise methods for understanding the interaction among contact lenses, lens-care solutions, and the surface of the eye. One particular technique uses an ocular surface cell collection apparatus (OSCCA), designed and built by CCLR researcher Rachael Peterson. Earlier versions of a similar instrument used in the 1980s were less efficient in comparison: Peterson's OSCCA collects 10 times more cells in one sitting without damage to the eye or the cells themselves. Her apparatus allows researchers to examine cellular changes to the ocular surface.

With creative inventions like Peterson's, Woods has high hopes for the future of contact lenses. "Ultimately, we're in pursuit of the perfect contact lens."

The CCLR is always looking for study participants. Study participants receive $20 per hour and time commitment varies from study to study. For more information, please visit the CCLR website.