IAS/Collingwood College Fellow's Public Lecture - A Future Without Glasses
'You are going to need another way to look distinguished when you get older because we intend to eliminate the need for glasses.'
Vision is the most important of the five senses in man and its decline with age is a certainty. By refracting or gathering divergent rays of light into a concentrated beam allows us to read a book and watch television at the same time, without even thinking about the process - until that is when you get older and have to swap glasses! The ability to focus is invariably lost between the 4th and 5th decades of our lives. Fortunately, this condition, presbyopia, can usually be treated with corrective lenses (bifocal/varifocal lenses). This is, however not the end of the story. From our 6th decade onwards, our lenses are more than likely to become opaque or cataractous and consequently excessive amounts of light are diffracted or scattered throughout a lens thereby compromising its transparency and disabling its focusing function. In point of fact, age-related cataract is the number one cause of blindness in the world. The cataractous lens can be easily removed surgically, but the ability to dynamically focus is not restored and once again we need glasses! Thus, there is a considerable ongoing effort to develop an artificial lens capable of dynamic focusing for surgical implantation. In order to make such an artificial lens it is, however, necessary to know how its individual parts work together in real life and this is currently unknown.
We believe we have discovered the underlying anatomical basis for both lens transparency and dynamic focusing. By supplementing the results of our 30+ years of microscopic analysis of vertebrate lens anatomy with computational biology we have found that the individual millions of cells that comprise a lens are simple two-turn coils or springs with incrementally different amounts and extents of curvature. Cumulatively they are organized into synchronous, spiraling planes of varying 3-dimensional complexity that relates to accommodative power. Thus, as the lens focuses, energy is stored in the spring-like lens cells. This novel explanation for the mechanism of dynamic focusing resolves issues that are unexplained by the current paradigm. If our novel interpretation of how lens structure supports its function is correct, then there is a high probability that it will soon be possible to produce a fully functional, artificial lens for surgical implantation. This will eliminate the need for glasses and greatly improve the quality of life for the ever expanding, global, elderly population.
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