Contact Lenses That Could Detect And Possibly Cure Cancer

This could be an invasive way to quickly spot cancer, and it could possibly make its way to curing it.


“Sealed contact lenses and contact lens case” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By: Meg Lagera, Journalist

Cancer is a terrible disease that everyone dreads. With about 1.7 million new cases and 600,000 deaths from it in 2019, finding a way to diagnose cancer early could help lower this number substantially. While treating it is already hard and stressful enough, diagnosing it can be just as frightening. Blood tests, CT scans, and biopsies can take days to weeks until a diagnosis is produced, and biopsies can come with deep cuts, ending people up with lasting scars. A non-profit research organization in California, the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation, has created a speedy, noninvasive, painless way to detect tumors from cancer and can possibly end up treating it. What is this innovative way to discover cancer? Contact lenses are the way.

HannahPovey Eye 01
“HannahPovey Eye 01” by orangeacid is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Biomedical engineer, Yangzhi Zhu, is the head researcher for this initiative, and in an interview with Inverse, he stated that this recent development “is pretty exciting compared to the other current techniques in this field.” To describe how it works, the contacts are made with antibodies that try to spot cellular byproducts in tears, called exosomes, that could show tumor growth in the body. When the antibodies in the contacts detect the antibodies prevalent in exosomes, they latch together and turn red. The red color that these antibodies provide shows that a tumor is present, and the color is so powerful that it can be seen by the naked eye. As well as tears, these exosomes that are used to detect cancer can be secreted in blood, saliva, plasma, and urine. However, trying to use these bodily fluids to detect cancer can come with intense testing, taking days to weeks for results, with incisions and surgeries to go with it. The contact lense solution is quick, taking only thirty minutes, and painless as well since it’s an external bodily fluid, not needing any incisions.

Female biomedical engineer with bone fixation device
“Female biomedical engineer with bone fixation device” by This is Engineering image library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This is an exciting advancement that could detect cancer at its early stages for millions of people around the world. So far, these contact lenses have been tested with lab cells, human tears, tissue cell lines, and cancer cell lines. These contact lenses, called antibody-conjugated signalling microchamber contact lenses (ACSM-CL), will most certainly pave the way to detecting cancer earlier, and it could possibly end up curing it. With this innovative product setting sail, the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation is planning to create products that could  diagnose other conditions, such as autoimmune diseases and potentially make products that can deliver drugs to various parts of the body to cure these diseases, instead of only diagnosing it.


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