VANCOUVER - Imagine being able to see three times better than 20/20 vision without wearing glasses or contacts — even at age 100 or more — with the help of bionic lenses implanted in your eyes.
Dr. Garth Webb, a British Columbia optometrist who invented the Ocumetic Bionic Lens, says patients would have perfect vision and that driving, progressive and contact lenses would become a dim memory as the eye-care industry is transformed.
Webb says people who have the specialized lenses surgically inserted would never get cataracts because their natural lenses, which decay over time, would have been replaced.
Perfect eyesight would result "no matter how crummy your eyes are," Webb says, adding the Bionic Lens would be an option for someone who depends on corrective lenses and is over about age 25, when the eye structures are fully developed.
"This is vision enhancement that the world has never seen before," he says, showing a Bionic Lens, which looks like a tiny button.
"If you can just barely see the clock at 10 feet, when you get the Bionic Lens you can see the clock at 30 feet away," says Webb, demonstrating how a custom-made lens that folded like a taco in a saline-filled syringe would be placed in an eye, where it would unravel itself within 10 seconds.
He says the painless procedure, identical to cataract surgery, would take about eight minutes and a patient's sight would be immediately corrected.
Webb, who is the CEO of Ocumetics Technology Corp., has spent the last eight years and about $3 million researching and developing the Bionic Lens, getting international patents and securing a biomedical manufacturing facility in Delta, B.C.
His mission is fuelled by the "obsession" he's had to free himself and others from corrective lenses since he was in Grade 2, when he was saddled with glasses.
"My heroes were cowboys, and cowboys just did not wear glasses," Webb says.
"At age 45 I had to struggle with reading glasses, which like most people, I found was a great insult. To this day I curse my progressive glasses. I also wear contact lenses, which I also curse just about every day."
Webb's efforts culminated in his recent presentation of the lens to 14 top ophthalmologists in San Diego the day before an annual gathering of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.
Dr. Vincent DeLuise, an ophthalmologist who teaches at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, says he arranged several meetings on April 17, when experts in various fields learned about the lens.
He says the surgeons, from Canada, the United States, Australia and the Dominican Republic, were impressed with what they heard and some will be involved in clinical trials for Webb's "very clever" invention.
"There's a lot of excitement about the Bionic Lens from very experienced surgeons who perhaps had some cynicism about this because they've seen things not work in the past. They think that this might actually work and they're eager enough that they all wish to be on the medical advisory board to help him on his journey," DeLuise says.
"I think this device is going to bring us closer to the holy grail of excellent vision at all ranges — distant, intermediate and near."
Pending clinical trials on animals and then blind human eyes, the Bionic Lens could be available in Canada and elsewhere in about two years, depending on regulatory processes in various countries, Webb says.
As for laser surgery, which requires the burning away of healthy corneal tissue and includes potential problems with glare, the need for night-time driving glasses and later cataracts, Webb says the Bionic Lens may make that option obsolete.
Alongside his Bionic Lens venture, Webb has set up a foundation called the Celebration of Sight, which would donate money to organizations providing eye surgery in developing countries to improve people's quality of life.
"Perfect eyesight should be a human right," he says.
DeLuise, who has been asked to manage the foundation, says funds would also be funnelled to some of the world's best eye research institutes.
"He has the technology that may make all of this happen," he says, adding several companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to develop a similar lens, though none have come close.