Contact lenses may soon become computer screens, thanks to a polymer film coating that can transform such wearable visual aids into next-generation consumer electronic products.

Researchers from the Future Industries Institute of University of South Australia said they have completed “proof of concept” research on the said polymer film coating, which can conduct electricity on a contact lens and possibly integrate electrical circuits safe for human wear.

Associate Professor Drew Evans from FII dubbed it a game changer, that a product can be a simple senor measuring the amount of blood glucose or creating an electronic display.

“[S]o rather than having something like a pair of glasses that’s acting like a computer, you can actually generate images directly on your contact lens,” explained Evans.

The institute, which has made advances in ultra-thin film technologies, has already partnered with a leading United Kingdom-based contact lens maker to pursue the project.

Previously, the institute developed a reflective thin film coating that led to the creation of the first fully plastic car mirrors, as well as to create smart windows for controlling the light that enters a room. They also modified the polymers to be used in military camouflage, now being studied to be used in novel kinds of batteries.

Now the team seeks to produce medical benefits through biocompatible conducting polymers at the nanoscale and growing them directly on a contact lens.

Evans’ team first layered the lens with hydrated hydrogel substrates to deposit polymer PEDOT onto the surface engineered for both biocompatibility and conductivity. They also gave the hydrogel some plasma treatment for better adhesive quality.

The resulting prototype builds a strong case for making miniature electrical circuits for power displays and various sensors for scanning biomarkers.

The human eye, for instance, has fluids that serve as health markers, so electrical sensor-powered contact lens can monitor someone’s well-being at real time. The promising proof-of-concept project is not just safe, but also helpful for those struggling with chronic health issues, added Evans.

The findings were published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Photo: Niek Beck | Flickr

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