Researchers experimenting with revolutionary drug-implanted contact lenses

Researchers experimenting with revolutionary drug-implanted contact lenses

Anyone who has had treatment for certain retinal diseases can tell you - it's not pretty.

In fact, some procedures are so painful that patients will often risk their own sight not to go through them.

Treatment for some retinal diseases can involve injections directly into the eyes.

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But, local researchers are now working on a new, painless way for patients to get medication into their eyes.

Enter contact lenses implanted with drugs.

"So you can actually see through it and it releases the drug into your eye," said Dr. Daniel Kohane, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital.

Patients like Rob Iannotti, who suffered sudden vision loss last year, will benefit greatly from the lenses.

Shortly after the Rhode Island funeral director began noticing issues with his left eye, Iannotti was diagnosed with a rare condition known as keratoconus, or a thinning of the tissue that covers the eye, also known as the cornea.

Iannotti likens it to a car windshield becoming as thin as plastic food wrap.

While he underwent several uncomfortable procedures to ease the condition, Iannotti says one of the biggest hassles was the multitude of eye drops needed afterward.

"In my daily life [I'm] in and out of the office all day, it's tough to carry around and remember each eye drop and when you're supposed to put it in," said Iannotti.

Health officials say that eye drop use after surgery can often times be overwhelming for patients.

"Some of my patients need to use drops every hour, day and night for weeks at a time," said Dr. Joseph Ciolino, a doctor at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

For retinal disease patients, it's even worse - it requires injections directly into the eye.

After one of his surgeries at Mass Eye and Ear, Iannotti had a non-medicated version of the lens implanted for a week.

"To be honest, I didn't know I had this device in my eye," said Iannotti.

While Iannotti's condition affected the front part of his eye, the lenses are able to get drugs to the retina in the back of the eye as well, which means no need for injections.

Researchers are hoping to begin human trials on the lenses in the coming months.