Skip to content

Federal grants awarded to develop tech to monitor, treat chronic eye diseases

Purdue researcher leads teams creating patent-pending smart contacts for glaucoma, neovascularization and dry eyes
March 20, 2024
Contact lens with special edges on a person's eye.

Image credit: Rebecca McElhoe, Purdue University

Research teams led by a faculty member in Purdue University’s College of Engineering will use two grants from the National Eye Institute totaling $6.7 million to further develop specialized smart soft contact lenses that continuously monitor or treat chronic ocular diseases like glaucoma, corneal neovascularization and dry eye syndromes. 

Chi Hwan Lee leads the teams that are developing the patent-pending lenses, which can painlessly deliver therapeutic drugs or accurately measure intraocular pressure, or IOP. IOP is the only known modifiable risk factor for glaucoma.

Lee specializes in StickTronics, which are stickerlike items that contain electronics or smart technology. He develops wearable biomedical devices that continuously monitor and manage chronic diseases or health conditions unobtrusively.

Some traditional wearable tonometers — devices that measure pressure inside the eyes — are equipped with an integrated circuit chip. This increases contact lens thickness and stiffness compared with a typical commercial soft contact lens, in many cases causing discomfort for patients. The research team’s version is different.

“To address this unmet need, we developed a unique class of smart soft contact lenses built upon various commercial brands of soft contact lenses for continuous 24-hour IOP monitoring and potentially treatment, even during sleep at home,” Lee said.

Lee said  $6.7 million funding from two National Eye Institute grants will further refine the smart soft contact lenses. Concurrently, clinical trials will be conducted in collaboration with Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the IU School of Optometry and Michigan Medicine to assess the lenses’ biosafety, usability, functionality, therapeutic effectiveness and durability.