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Imec and Ghent University Present a Smart Contact Lens Mimicking the Human Iris to Combat Eye Deficiencies

Ghent (Belgium), September 4, 2020 — Imec, a world-leading research and
innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies and CMST (an
imec-affiliated research group at Ghent University), together with their
partners the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Fundación Jiménez Díaz
(Madrid, Spain) and Holst Centre (an open innovation initiative from
imec and TNO, the Netherlands) today presented an artificial iris
embedded in a smart contact lens. The iris aperture is tunable through
concentric rings on an integrated liquid crystal display (LCD). The
smart contact lens is designed to operate for an entire day thanks to an
ultra-low power design, offering a practical solution for people who
suffer from human eye iris deficiencies like aniridia, high order
aberrations like keratoconus, and light sensitivity or photophobia. The
first performance assessment of the artificial iris is reported today in
Scientific Reports from Nature, demonstrating its potential to expand
the visual sharpness, decrease optical aberrations and reduce the amount
of light entering the eye in a dynamic manner. The prototype presented
today will be further developed into a medical device within the
framework of the spin-off incubation initiative Azalea Vision, from imec
and Ghent University.

The human iris controls the pupil size in response to light, hence
regulating the amount of light that reaches the retina. Patients
suffering from human eye iris deficiencies like aniridia, higher order
aberrations like keratoconus, and light sensitivity or photophobia,
which is highly prevalent in patients with chronic migraine, and Dry-Eye
Syndrome (DES) could use this platform inside a contact lens. The
prevalence for these groups adds up to more than 20 million patients.
Current solutions such as contact lenses with a fixed iris, artificial
iris implants or glasses with variable transparency, do not entirely
mimic the normal functionality of the iris. For example, they do not
affect the depth-of-focus, hence impeding a sharp vision. The artificial
iris lens is capable of dynamically changing the pupil size, bringing
back two levels of functionality of the eye, being light adaptation and
expanded depth-of-focus.
Currently the Azalea Vision team is focused on validating this device
with patients and volunteers under clinical investigations in order to
provide a functional, robust and safe device for diverse eye disorders
with light sensitivity and lack of visual sharpness.

“By combining our expertise on miniaturized flexible electronics,
low-power ASIC design and hybrid integration, we have demonstrated the
capacity to develop a solution for people who suffer from iris
deficiencies, higher order aberrations and photophobia, a common yet
debilitating symptom seen in many neuro-ophthalmic disorders”, says
researcher prof. Andrés Vásquez Quintero at imec/UGent. “Our smart
contact lens can control the level of incoming light mimicking a human
iris and offering a potential solution to vision correction – by
expanding depth-of-field with automatic control of pupil size. This way,
our approach can surpass current solutions to combat human eye iris
deficiencies. Its beneficial optical effects will be further clinically
validated and developed into a medical device.”

“It is imec’s aim to create added value for the society and bring our
research to the market”, said Luc Van den hove, president and CEO of
imec. “We are convinced that this artificial iris prototype has all the
potential to become a game changer in ophthalmic treatment. Therefore,
we have launched an incubation project together with imec.xpand to fully
support the team’s ambition to mature and validate the technology and
support their efforts to commercialize via a strong business case as a

“The Azalea Vision initiative adds to our longstanding track record of
creating spin-off’s in the photonics and microsystems area”, said Rik
Van de Walle, rector of Ghent University. “Many of these new companies
target important medical problems and several more startup initiatives
are in preparation.”

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