Telescopic Contact Lens Gives Users ‘Eagle-Eye’ Vision, 2.8x Magnification Could Restore Sight After Macular Degeneration [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 2, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

telescopic contact lens
The telescopic contact lens increases vision by 280 percent. The new technology could be a breakthrough in treating age-related macular degeneration. (Photo: YouTube/Screenshot)

A telescopic contact lens sounds like something only James Cameron could dream up for a movie about a bionic man (oh wait, already been done). But the innovative technology isn't a thing of Hollywood razzle-dazzle. A new telescopic contact lens, developed by researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the first of its kind and could provide vision to millions of people who suffer from age-related macular degeneration.

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Extreme Tech reports that the telescopic contact lens is just 1.17mm thick. It magnifies vision by 280 percent, about the same as 100mm lens on a DSLR camera. "Nobody knows the potential of this telescopic eye," one man familiar with the telescopic contact lens said. "I'm convinced you can take it to a level of perfection that nobody has."

The average contact lens ranges in thickness from .08mm to .18mm. The telescopic contact lens is 1.17mm thick, which allows it to be worn like a regular contact lens. It's made of a gas impermeable polymer, like earlier generations of contact lenses.

While the inventive superhero-like technology would make Cyclops envious, the telescopic contact lens was developed mostly to help restore sight to people with age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in adults over 50 years of age.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.9 million have AMD and 7.3 million others are at risk for vision loss from the condition. While age is the main factor leading to AMD, risk of developing the condition increases with people who smoke, people who are Caucasian, and those with a family history of AMD. Women also tend to develop AMD at an earlier age than men.

The macula is part of the retina located at the back of the eye. It is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that turns incoming light into electrical signals and then sends those signals to the brain through the optic nerve. This is what produces sharp, central vision. Age-related macular degeneration is the gradual deterioration of this part of the eye.

The American Optometric Association notes the symptoms of AMD. They include a gradual onslaught of blurry or distorted vision, a gradual loss of color vision, and a dark or empty area appearing in the center of vision. The eyesight loss associated with AMD makes it difficult to recognize faces, read or drive a car.

The new telescopic contact lens uses tightly fitting mirrored surfaces to create a telescope that is fitted into a contact lens. The center of the lens is unmagnified, while the periphery increases sight by 2.8x. According to Science World Report, a person wearing a pair of telescopic contact lenses have to also wear a pair of liquid crystal glasses normally used for watching 3D TV.

Unfortunately, more time and innovation are needed to make the telescopic contact lens more suitable for widespread use. It won't be on the market until the lens can be manufactured using the much more comfortable material.

"In the future, it will hopefully be possible to go after the core of the problem with effective treatments or retinal prosthetics," co-author Eric Tremblay Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said in a statement. "The ideal is really for magnifiers to become unnecessary. Until we get there, however, contact lenses may provide a way to make AMD a little less debilitating."

And what about for the rest of us, who just want that "eagle-eye" vision the lenses provide?

"While these telescopic lenses are obviously intended for people who suffer from AMD, there's nothing to prevent a healthy person from wearing them and achieving better-than-human (superhuman?) vision," Extreme Tech reports.

Game on, Mr. Terminator.

Read more from iScience Times:

Contact Lenses Worn Overnight; What Is Hyperopic Orthokeratology?

Parasite In Eyeball: Contact Lens Infection Eats Girl's Eye; Are Your Lenses Safe?

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