Byrne, research team awarded NIH grant to research and develop contact lenses to treat glaucoma

Published: Mar 17, 2014 9:25:00 AM
Media Contact: Megan Burmester,, 334.844.2220

chemical lens grant

Mark Byrne, Daniel F. and Josephine Breeden associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, has been awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to study and develop extended-wear contact lenses that treat glaucoma by slowly releasing a controlled dose of medication to the eye over an extended period of time. 

Byrne is the principal investigator (PI), and is joined by veterinary ophthalmologist and co-PI  Meredith Voyles, doctoral student Liana Wuchte, chemical engineering undergraduates Andrew Hightaian and Carter Lloyd, project veterinarian  Bettina Schemera Toro Guzman, and veterinary ophthalmologist Eva Abarca Piedrafita.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, following cataracts, with an estimated 70 million people affected worldwide. The disease creates high pressure within the eye that damages the optic nerve and eventually causes significant vision loss. It is normally treated with eye drops, but a combination of inconsistent drug concentration and patience resistance make conventional therapies ineffective.

“Our lenses control the release of therapeutic delivery of drug dosage from the lens leading to a constant concentration in the tear fluid for the duration of wear,” Byrne said. “Typically, patients administer eye drops several times a day and there are large variations in drug concentration. With a stable concentration, patients have more efficient and effective treatment and significantly better outcomes from these contact lenses compared to eye drops.”

Byrne’s team engineers the structure of the lens by varying composition and reaction conditions to form the lens. Using chemical and structural properties, the amount of drug in the lens and delivery rate can be controlled. The research and development will address fundamental questions relating to the formation of these materials as well as the lenses which consist of polymer networks.

“It’s exciting to see our analysis lead to fewer complications for patients suffering from glaucoma and other eye diseases,” Voyles said.

Byrne’s team is the first to use a technique that produces drug releasing lenses that result in a stable, constant concentration of drug in the tear film for the duration of contact lens wear. Through this study Byrne and his team will be one step closer to enhancing the lives of individuals who have experienced the debilitating effects of glaucoma and help them see a brighter future.