Health and wellness

Contact lenses invented in Hong Kong to correct child myopia will cost 40 per cent less than current treatment

Developed by Polytechnic University researchers, the device is the first of its kind and could slow progression of the condition by up to 60 per cent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 10:04pm

A Hong Kong university whose researchers invented the first-ever day contact lenses to reduce short-sightedness in children has partnered with a local start-up to produce the device, which will be 40 per cent cheaper than an existing myopia treatment.

Polytechnic University’s Defocus Incorporated Soft Contact (DISC) will cost HK$8,800 per year (US$1,125) – this is for four sets of lenses as each pair has to be replaced every quarter.

The custom-made lenses have to be worn during the day and for an average of 10 years.

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In comparison, the orthokeratology lenses now available for children to wear while they are sleeping costs HK$15,000 a year on average. They are only suitable for up to a certain degree of short sightedness.

Myopia occurs when light that enters the front of the eye, or the cornea, and focuses at a point in front of the retina – the light-sensitive tissue on the back of the eye – rather than on it. This causes the eyeball to become too long.

Mild cases do not pose a significant risk, but severe myopia can lead to retinal detachment, glaucoma or cataracts. People with severe myopia usually start getting near-sighted when young and it progresses year after year.

While orthokeratology lenses are designed to reshape the cornea, the DISC lenses are designed such that there would be a clear image on the retina and a blurred image in front of it. This would prevent the eyeball from growing too large.

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Research team leader and head of PolyU’s optometry school, Professor To Chi-ho, said on Monday the lenses could slow the progression of myopia by up to 60 per cent in primary school-aged children.

His research team conducted clinical trials between 2007 and 2009 on local children aged between eight and 13. Those who wore the lenses for up to eight hours per day saw their rate of myopia progression slow by 60 per cent.

The lenses will be made by Vision Science and Technology, which is owned by a PolyU alumnus.

“The wearers [of the lenses] can avoid suffering from the adverse effect of drugs or surgery,” To said.

Vision Science’s founder Jackson Leung Tse-man said that while cheaper lenses were mass-produced, each pair of DISC lenses would be customised by an optometrist for the wearer. The lenses are expected to become available in the next few months.

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To noted that in addition to stopping the progression of myopia, the lenses could even reverse the condition, based on tests on animals conducted by his research team.

While there was no definitive cause of myopia, To blamed the education system in Hong Kong for short-sightedness becoming a public health issue, as children were required to study and write from a young age.

“You can imagine if you’re a little kid, your arms are very short. [And when you ask] kids to write and read ... they move their stuff very close to the eye,” To said.

According to science journal Nature, an estimated 2.5 billion people – one-third of the global population – will suffer from short-sightedness by 2020, most of them in Asian countries.