While not a life-threatening condition, presbyopia affects nearly everyone over the age of about 40 or 45. As people age, according to one theory, the lenses in their eyes slowly harden making it more and more difficult to focus on nearby objects. The current solution for most people is reading glasses or contacts. Even people who undergo corrective laser surgery often still need glasses for reading and up close focusing.
"Our idea is that if we can remove the lens and put in a material that is soft, like a young healthy lens is at age 20, then they would have their accommodative ability restored," says researcher Madalene Fetsch. "They would be able to focus on near and far objects."
Fetsch, a graduate assistant in Washington University's department of biomedical engineering, is working under the mentorship of Dr. Nathan Ravi, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator in the development of the replacement lens material. He is an associate professor of ophthalmology and professor of chemical engineering at the school. He also is director of ophthalmology for VA Heartland hospitals in the Midwest.
The material, which is currently in lab testing, is a hydrophobically modified hydrogel. Hydrogels are used in many extended wear contact lenses.
"The gels can be made soft to the touch and have viscoelastic properties similar to that of the natural human lens," according to Fetsch. "At the same time, our material so far looks l