Lynn Waddell has worn contacts for more than 20 years, and it hasn't always been a smooth ride. She's had eye infections that were linked to contact lenses. Now, she's shedding some tears to advance the science of contact lenses.
Lucy Kehinde is a researcher at the University of Alabama, Birmingham who is focusing on cytokines, or inflammatory markers that indicate an allergic reaction. Kehinde says, "A great way to measure the health of the eye is to look at the proteins in your tears. Cytokines specifically will change in concentration depending on the health of your eye." It may be allergens or debris in the lens that causes the allergic response.
To provide the main research ingredient, study participants like Lynn fill ultra-thin glass tubes with tears from the surface of the eye. Once the tears are analyzed, the cytokines will tell a story about what's happening in the eye over a period of a month, which is the length of time some people wear their lenses.
Kehinde says, "We all know that 30 days of having anything on any part of the body may not be the healthiest way to go." Kehinde hopes to find markers that will tell eye doctors which people are the best candidates for wearing long-term lenses. Kehinde's research suggests that if certain cytokines that are present early on increase early in the trial period, that individual may not be a good candidate for extended wear.
Kehinde hopes her research will improve the way contacts are prescribed. It may also help doctors understand the chronic condition called "dry eye" and provide helpful treatments for patients who experience it.