Bionic Lens? Maybe...

By now you may have seen the article talking about a new implantable lens that would let people see 3x better than 20/20, have clear vision at all distances and prevent cataracts. This article has been making the rounds this past week. It sounds too good to be true but it sure would be amazing if it works.

If you haven't had a chance to read the article you can by clicking here though there are several different sources including the CBC. I encourage you to take a look and read the articles. Certainly what they are proposing is very exciting, but before you throw away your glasses there are a few things to think about.

The most important thing to know is that we already have this technology (or something very similar)! There are a few multifocal lens implants out there right now, today, that can be implanted in your eye surgically. One of the most commonly used lenses is called the Restor IOL. This nifty little lens implant uses diffraction (which is a complicated optical/physics concept. Essentially it means that light is bent instead of focusing in a straight line. Fore a more detailed explanation click here.) to allow people to see far, near and everything in between. You won't get a cataract because they remove your natural lens (which turns into a cataract eventually) when they implant the Restor IOL. Sounds great, right (and similar to this new bionic lens)? It is, but (you knew there was a but coming didn't you) it comes with a few drawbacks. Diffraction allows you to see all distances but often at a cost. Vision at all distances, while excellent, is often not as clear as it was previously. The lens works very well for reading but sometimes low powered reading glasses are still needed for extended reading or very small print. That's why this lens isn't recommend for younger people; your natural vision is likely better than it would be after having this lens implanted. It is also quite expensive which rules the surgery out for some people.

This is a Restor IOL implant. Those rings diffract light and allow someone to see all distances relatively clearly

It's entirely possible this new lens design will be different and solve these problems. There's another design called an 'accommodating' lens implant. It works more like the natural lens in your eye and works to focus light clearly at all distances. There's one of those on the market right now as well. It's known as a Crystalens. The Crystalens, when it was being developed, was going to be the next big thing. Everyone hoped that it would revolutionize lens implants and given people high quality vision at all distances without the drawbacks of a diffractive lens implant. Once it got through clinical trials though and was available for popular use they discovered that while it worked it didn't work as well as they had hoped. People still needed reading glasses after their surgery and the lens is not used much anymore.

This is the Crystalens. It was hoped that it would allow clear vision at all distances are mimic your natural lens. It didn't quite work out.

This is the Crystalens. It was hoped that it would allow clear vision at all distances are mimic your natural lens. It didn't quite work out.

This new lens may be better. It might be an improvement on these designs or a totally new design (their website is vague on how this new lens will work). Certainly I expect that someday there will be a great design that will be an improvement over anything we have yet. This lens still needs to be tested though and a lot can happen between having a prototype and having something that can be used and works as well as hoped.

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