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Eyedrops are a simple way to get medicine to the surface of the eye, but taking drops several times a day can be onerous for patients. A startup company in Cambridge, MA, has developed an alternative: contact lenses that can deliver drugs to the eye for a month or more.

Eyenovations is developing the technology to make it easier for patients with glaucoma to receive medicine without relying on frequent eyedrops. The company believes that the lenses could prove useful for treating several other eye conditions and for delivering antibiotics following eye surgery.

Daniel Kohane, director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Children’s Hospital in Boston, first developed this drug-delivering contact lens while collaborating with ophthalmologists seeking a better way to deliver antibiotics to patients who had received a prosthetic cornea.

Kohane worked with Joseph Ciolino, a clinical fellow at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, to modify contact-lens materials to carry medications. The team developed a hydrogel lens with a polymer film inside that contains the medication. The medication is released from the contact gradually, and the rate of release can be controlled by altering the properties of the polymer film and the lens. In future models, Kohane adds, it may be possible to infuse the medication directly into the hydogel material of the lens.

Several other research groups have explored contact lenses that carry medications, but they have struggled to achieve extended release of the drugs. The Eyenovations team found a way to make their lens deliver high doses of medication for up to 100 days–a process they are now patenting. They plan to develop commercial lenses, using materials approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that deliver drugs for up to 30 days–the FDA’s limit for single-use contact lenses.

This January the team published a proof-of-concept paper in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science demonstrating that the lenses could release an antibiotic for more than a month. Chris Kreitel, a student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who joined the scientific team to develop a business plan for the startup company, says that the group has begun animal testing and plans clinical testing soon.

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Credit: MIT, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Children's Hospital Boston

Tagged: Biomedicine, Materials, polymers, eye disease, contact lens, glaucoma

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