The new lenses allow a dose of medication to be delivered through contact with the eye.
“Eye drops are the current state of the art,” said Byrne, associate professor of chemical engineering. “The medication is out of the eye within 30 minutes. The concentration of the drug goes up and down. There’s only a limited amount of time to push the fluid in the eye tissue. It doesn’t work as well as it should.”
Byrne said he studied many of the body’s cooperative functions to develop the contacts.
“We wanted to control the release of molecules from a polymer structure,” Byrne said. “There are a lot of interactions with certain molecules within the body, such as the binding of protein.
“We looked at that chemistry and asked if we could extract information out and put chemistry in the films, which would allow interaction between drugs and the polymer structure.”
The interactions, Byrne said, slow the intake of medication throughout the day, eliminating the need to use eye drops every few hours.
“The technology is very powerful,” said Matt McBride, undergraduate research assistant and senior in chemical engineering. “You can replace putting eye drops in twice a day and just put a lens on.”
A recent development was a successful trial on a rabbit.
“We were able to put a contact lens in an animal and were able to study how the contact lenses performed,” said Arianna Tieppo, graduate student and research assistant.
The experiment’s success, Byrne said, marks the beginning of commercialization.
“The rabbit tests were the last validation to move forward with major financing,” Byrne said. “It’s the first demonstration of a nice, constant amount of medication for the tear fluid in 24 hours.”
Byrne collected information by detecting molecules in the rabbit’s tear fluid. After collecting data on the molecules, Byrne used ultraviolet light to measure their energy levels.
“When a molecule absorbs energy, light comes out,” Byrne said. “This measures the transmittance of energy and relates to the concentration of the molecule.”
Research for the project began in 2004. Most of the funding came from Ocumedic Inc., which Byrne co-founded and where he serves as chief technical officer.
Byrne couldn’t say when the product will appear on the market, but said the project is heading in that direction.
“Before it appears on the market, we have to go through the FDA,” he said. “The drug is already approved, all materials have been approved, but we still have to go through the FDA to make sure everything is OK to move ahead with human testing.”
The project, in addition to receiving attention from faculty, has gained traction in the medical community and has been detailed in numerous journals including the Journal of Controlled Release, the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics and the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Byrne expects to see pharmaceutical companies moving toward the new technology.
“This is a much better delivery for ocular medication,” Byrne said. “It’s taking the dosing out of the patient’s hand.”