The potential for replacing aging or damaged eye lenses with artificial lenses that do more than just restore eyesight has long been recognized. With everything from telescopic capabilities to those with built-in heads-up displays, electronically-enabled synthetic lenses promise to bring useful cybernetic enhancements to the human body. In pursuit of this goal, one researcher at the University of Leeds is developing a unique, auto-focusing liquid crystal lens that may help cure age-related long-sightedness.

Presbyopia, a condition that often occurs in people over the age of 45 years as the lenses in their eyes become stiffer and less flexible, means that many of us need reading glasses or contact lenses as we grow older. To help address this problem, Devesh Mistry, a postgraduate research student at the University of Leeds, has been conducting research on liquid crystal to produce a completely adjustable artificial lens designed to surgically replace presbyopic lenses.

"As we get older, the lens in our eye stiffens, when the muscles in the eye contract they can no longer shape the lens to bring close objects into focus," said Mistry. "Using liquid crystals, which we probably know better as the material used in the screens of TVs and smartphones, lenses would adjust and focus automatically, depending on the eye muscles’ movement."

Much like the common replacement of lenses in human cataract operations, Mistry believes that his new liquid crystal models would be implanted in the same way to rejuvenate the ability of the eye to focus. He also imagines that, within a decade, his research may result in the new lenses being implanted in a relatively simple surgical procedure where a small incision in the cornea would be made and then ultrasound used to destroy the old lens. This would then be removed and the new liquid crystal lens put in its place.

"Liquid crystals are a very under-rated phase of matter," said Devesh. "Everybody’s happy with solids, liquids and gases and the phases of matter, but liquid crystals lie between crystalline solids and liquids. They have an ordered structure like a crystal, but they can also flow like a liquid and respond to stimuli."

Recently presented with an Industrial Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, Devesh's project will have continued funding as part of a range of on-going support of science and engineering research and industrial education throughout the United Kingdom.

"I'm thrilled that Devesh has won the RC1851 Industrial Fellowship," said Professor Helen Gleeson, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds. "This will support an excellent student working on an exciting project that involves optometry, physics and engineering, helping us to take our research ideas towards a practical device."

Working in collaboration with the Eurolens Research at the University of Manchester, Devesh is also participating in continued improvements to his device with UltraVision CLPL, a manufacturer concentrating on specialized contact lenses. As well, Devesh continues to research and develop his lens in the University of Leeds laboratory and says that he should have a working prototype completed by the time he finishes his doctorate in 2018. He believes that the first commercial liquid crystal lenses developed from his research may go on sale somewhere between six and ten years from now.

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