About two months ago, a group of biohackers from the group Science for the Masses carried out a personal experiment that created quite a stir.
The researchers took eye drops containing chlorophyll-based chlorin E6 dye, and were therefore able to achieve a significant—albeit temporary—increase in their night vision. Such was this increase, that it was possible for them to see people standing in front of a tree 50 metres away in total darkness.
During this stunt, which one of the participating researchers later referred to as “crap science,” a different scientific discovery relating to sight was made that was just as good, but far more sustainable — the Ocumetic Bionic Lens. Dr. Garth Webb, an optometrist from British Columbia and inventor of this special lens, promises that it can help triple normal visual acuity — for almost everyone.
Biotech is better than nature
Webb’s biocompatible polymer lenses could not only mean the end of laser eye surgery, glasses and contact lenses, but could also offer protection against cataracts, a clouding of the lens that leads to a slow loss of visual acuity.
The procedure is straightforward, painless and takes just 8 minutes
The reason for this is that the human lens, which degrades as we get older, is completely removed and replaced by this bionic counterpart. The surgical procedure is quite straightforward, painless, and it only takes about eight minutes on average. This is because the custom-made lens, which is curled up in a syringe filled with saline solution, is only placed in the eye via a 7 mm incision, where it then unfolds within 10 seconds.
Will we have bionic eyes by 2017?
In principle, the procedure is similar to cataract treatment — the person treated benefits from improved visual acuity immediately. Negative consequences—such as biophysical side-effects in the form of a separation of toxins—are also not expected according to Webb, nor are disadvantages that occasionally occur with the use of other artificial lenses. These include a weak form of double vision, reduced contrast or an impairment in stereopsis.
A better improvement in vision than has ever been seen before
Webb is convinced that his lens can help everyone over 25—the age at which the eye is fully developed and vision is stable—achieve perfect visual acuity. “If you can see a clock 10 feet away without the bionic lens, you will be able to see [that clock] from as far as 30 feet away with it,” says Webb.
“No matter how bad the condition of the eyes,” he adds, the Bionic Lens allows a “better improvement in vision than has ever been seen before.”
As amazing as all this sounds, a certain degree of skepticism still exists. This is because, even though Webb—along with his company Ocumetics Technology Corp.—has invested approximately eight years and $3 million in his bionic lens, larger companies (with even larger budgets) have also sought such a lens solution and have only had moderate success.
Science fact or science fiction?
It wouldn’t be the first time that David came out victorious over Goliath. But it also wouldn’t be the first time that a solution touted as being revolutionary turned out to be a pipe dream. In technology circles, it’s often dubbed “vapourware.”
And even if the Bionic Lens does what Webb promises, people who would not usually give much credence to conspiracy theories are questioning whether the industry—from eye doctors and pharmaceutical companies to manufacturers of contact lenses and glasses—might have a distinct interest in deliberately holding such a technological advance.
Will it really work? We’re likely to find out in about two years’ time when the necessary clinical trials on the Bionic Lens should be complete. However, as is always the case with such things, where Webb’s Lens will actually be available—even following its potential approval—is a completely different matter.Pictures: Darryl Dyck — The Canadian Press