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Visionary medicine

National | Some scientists see more potential in contact lenses than just vision correction.

Issue: "Army of compassion," April 5, 2003

Some scientists see more potential in contact lenses than just vision correction. Researchers now want to deliver medications through contact lenses, an idea that may transform treatments for problems from glaucoma to eye infections.

Chemical engineer Anuj Chauhan says he and his University of Florida colleagues can embed tiny particles inside soft contact lenses. Over two weeks, the medication slowly releases directly to the area that needs treatment. "One of the biggest problems with using eye drops to deliver medication to the eyes is that about 95 percent of the medication goes where it's not needed," explained Mr. Chauhan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

The lenses may not hit the market for years, and the design is in the early stages and still requires clinical testing. But if successful, they may solve a messy problem. When patients use eye drops, drugs can mix with tears, then drain into the nasal cavity and enter the bloodstream. This can cause serious side effects. The glaucoma drug Timolol has caused heart problems in some patients.

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A contact lens can apply the medicine slowly enough that it only affects the eye. Mr. Chauhan also speculated that his process can add antibiotics to extended-wear lenses and make them less likely to cause infections.

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