Dispensing Drugs Through Contact Lenses

“Cambridge Eye-novations” of Cambridge, Massachusetts is developing contact lenses that can automatically dispense drugs to the eye for up to 30 days at a time. Based on research centered at the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Children’s Hospital in Boston, the new contact lenses could eliminate the need for treatment with regular eye drops for common conditions like glaucoma or dry eyes. Researchers also believe such contact lenses may expand the crop of eye drugs available today.
 Dr. Daniel Kohane in his research laboratory (Credit: Children's Hospital, Boston)
Dr. Daniel Kohane in
his research laboratory
(Credit: Children’s Hospital, Boston)

The original research on drug delivery through contact lenses was performed by scientists from Children’s Hospital in Boston, the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The project was headed by Dr. Daniel Kohane, who directs the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Children’s Hospital and has a long history of inventing new drug delivery methods. Dr. Kohane has previously invented hydrogels that can be inserted into the abdomen after surgery in order to prevent tissues from sticking together and causing complications. He has also invented a hydrogel with anti-fungal properties that can coat medical devices and protect patients using those devices from fungal infections.

The new contact lenses are also made from hydrogel, which includes a special polymer that holds the actual drug. The medication is slowly released at a rate controlled by the specific properties of the polymer and the hydrogel. Researchers have formulated a hydrogel and polymer combination capable of releasing drugs for a period of 100 days, well over the 30 day maximum imposed on single use contact lenses by the Food and Drug Administration.

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An early prototype of the contact lenses was designed to dispense antibiotics – useful for patients after eye surgery – but the researchers at Cambridge Eye-novations hope the first commercial product will dispense glaucoma medications. If successful, a variety of other drugs currently taken as eye drops would follow. The team also hopes to experiment with other drugs that can’t currently be dispensed through eye drops but nevertheless may be beneficial to eye patients.

Animal testing of the lenses has already begun and clinical trials are expected to follow shortly. The scientists say that in the future their contact lenses may also include vision correction, which will accompany the medication.

TFOT has previously reported on other innovative drug delivery technologies including yeast microspheres that could replace injections, a skin patch with painless microneedles which enable to closely control drug delivery and permit the administration of more than one drug in a single application, the iPill smart pill that is based on the same design as camera pills, and micro-origami containers designed to deliver drugs in very precise quantities.

Information about Cambridge Eye-novations and their contact lenses is still limited. You can read about lead researcher Daniel Kohane and some of his research in this profile in the Children’s Hospital magazine or read the abstract of the paper describing the lens research published in Investigative Opthalmalogy and Visual Science.

Icon image credit: Petr Novak, Wikipedia