UNIVERSAL CITY,CALIF. — UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- An ultraviolet-light device may soon protect the eyes of millions of American contact-lens wearers from infections and scarring that can lead to corneal transplants or blindness.
The prototype, designed by a University of Maryland School of Medicine corneal specialist and his research associate, is now awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.
Within the next two years, contact-lens wearers could pay about $75 for a 2 1/2 -inch-by-3-inch ultraviolet, or UV, unit that would clean and sterilize their lenses in 30 minutes, Dr. Verinder S. Nirankari said. He and Paul Tittel have developed the device.
No longer would contact-lens wearers have to face a daily disinfection chore, a practice that eye doctors have repeatedly warned has been marked by carelessness and ignorance.
"Some people don't even know the difference between cleaning and sterilization," Nirankari told a science writers' seminar here sponsored by the New York-based Research to Prevent Blindness.
"They think that when they have cleaned their lenses they [the lenses] are sterilized. The UV device should be an appealing alternative," Nirankari added.
The UV unit that is to be marketed would be about the size of a contact-lens case and as flat as a passport. Wearers would take their lenses out of their eyes, put them in the case, and the disinfection process would be triggered by closing the lid.
"The experimental data that the FDA requires is all there," Nirankari said. "What we have to do now is call the FDA and find out if they want any clinical trials for this unit."
The researcher said the UV unit has been tested for the following:
* To see if it alters the contact lens.
* To see if it provides protection from infectious agents that are transferred from contaminated solutions to the contact lenses.
* To see if it provides protection from two viruses that are not part of the FDA system of tests.
"The UV unit is an effective killer of bacteria, fungus, acanthamoeba -- a free-swimming organism in water -- adenovirus and Herpes 1 virus, both of which cause acute eye infections," he said. The unit killed the Herpes 1 virus in 30 seconds, he said.
Nirankari, who heads the UM eye department's corneal service, said he also plans to test the effectiveness of the device against HIV, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"We want to find out whether the unit has the ability to kill the AIDS virus if a lens picks it up from tears in the eye," he said.
According to Nirankari, a reported 13 million people in the United States use soft contact lenses, 9 million use contact lenses that are worn daily, 4 million use extended-wear contact lenses and an increasing number of people use disposable extended-wear soft contact lenses.