Israeli researchers say they have developed a “revolutionary” way to improve eyesight and do away with glasses and contact lenses, which they say will be able to be done at home with a smartphone, a small laser device, and special eye drops.
The technology was developed by researchers at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials.
“We want to modify vision and correct types of refractive errors,” said Dr. David Smadja, an ophthalmologist who developed the what he calls Nano-Drops together with Prof. Zeev Zalevsky, from Bar-Ilan’s Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, and Prof. Jean-Paul Moshe Lellouche, Head of the Department of Chemistry at Bar-Ilan.
Refractive errors take place when light isn’t focused accurately onto the retina due to the shape of the eye. The most common types of refractive error are nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia — later-onset farsightedness. The global eyewear market is expected to jump to $167 billion in 2026, according to Statista.
The Israeli researchers came up with a way to reshape the cornea, which accounts for 60 percent of the eye’s optical power. They tried out their system on the eyes of dead pigs, which have an optical system that is very similar to that of humans.
“We achieved a correction of 3 diopters,” said Smadja. A diopter is the optic metric used to measure vision. “This means that someone who needs reading glasses would now be able to go without them,” he said.
There are three steps to the technology that is now in development.
The first step requires patients to measure their eyesight via their smartphones. There are already a number of apps that do this, said Smadja. The second step requires the patients to use a second app — being developed by the researchers — which would have a laser device clipped onto the smartphone. This device will deliver laser pulses to the eye in less than a second that etch a shallow shape onto the cornea to help correct its refractive error. During the last stage, the Nano-Drops — made up of nontoxic nanoparticles of proteins — are put into the eye and they activate the shape, thus correcting the patients’ vision.
“It’s like when you write something with fuel on the ground and the fuel dries up, and then you throw a flame onto the fuel and the fire takes the shape of the writing,” Smadja explained. “The drops activate the pattern.”
The technology, unlike current laser operations that correct eyesight, does not remove tissue and is thus noninvasive, and it suits most eyes, expanding the scope of patients who can correct their vision, he said.
The three researchers worked together on the project after Smadja said he had a “dream” of getting rid of his glasses. “I said we have to do something, so we brainstormed together and within a few hours we came up with this idea.”
In the pig experiment the effect of corrected vision lasted for two hours. The researchers are now raising funds to experiment on live pigs or rabbits and to follow up the effect of the drops over a longer period of time. They hope, said Smadja, to test out the technology on humans in the summer of 2019.
The findings were patented by the commercialization arm of Bar-Ilan University and the researchers are thinking about setting up a startup to further develop the product. There are already a number of investors who have expressed interest in the technology, said Smadja.