Trying to find a gift for the man or woman in your life who has everything? Optometrist and contact lens expert David Foresto may have the answer. He recently developed two sets of purely cosmetic contact lenses for an international customer – one with rings of pure gold and the other with flakes of gold embedded within. Now, Mr. Foresto hopes to use the technical knowledge gained in the process to develop lenses for greater good.
It’s amazing what can be achieved, when money is no object and you’ve got intelligence, creative thinking and technology on your side.
David Foresto, principal at EyeQ Optometrists Spring Hill in Brisbane was surprised when, one year ago, a patient came in asking for contact lenses embedded with gold rings for his father.
“I was managing the young patient for keratoconous. He was from Saudi Arabia and he was studying in Australia. I had fitted him with scleral lenses and he was really happy with the results we were achieving. He told his father back in Dubai about our work and that triggered the idea.
“My patient’s father didn’t have any need for vision correction, these were purely cosmetic,” he said.
I wanted to use real gold, which is more dazzling and has more parallels to getting a conductive material into a lens
BENEFITS BEYOND THE LENS
Mr. Foresto said that although the idea of making a contact lens for reasons of vanity did not appeal, he could see the benefits of doing so beyond the lens itself.
“I’d been thinking about the potential to develop contact lenses with embedded augmented reality for some time – it’s something that is going to come soon, it’s just a matter of developing the technology – and this was an opportunity to explore that interest.”
Augmented reality (AR) contact lenses would overlay the wearer’s real world vision with relevant information or images and could be used for training, industry and gaming.
“I’d had a number of thoughts about how I could achieve a proof of concept. I needed to try to get either a conductive filament – like a wire or fibre optic – inside a scleral lens that would facilitate the visual display. So in starting the process for the customer’s gold contact lens, my idea was to laser two grooves on a hard contact lens into which we would seal gold rings, or using two thin lenses, to engrave a groove onto the front of one, and a groove on the back of another, inset the gold rings, then sandwich them together.”
“There was also the option of using soft lenses, which traditionally you would use for cosmetic contact lenses, however they are far more difficult to work with – they have to be modified in a sterile laboratory for one thing.”
Additionally, soft contact lenses would have necessitated use of a gold pigment inside the lens material and Mr. Foresto knew it wasn’t the effect he or his client was after.
“I wanted to use real gold, which is more dazzling and has more parallels to getting a conductive material into a lens,” he explained.
Mr. Foresto worked with two custom lens laboratories to develop the 18.5mm scleral lenses – Corneal Lens Corporation in Christchurch, New Zealand and Capricornia in Queensland Australia.
“Both labs have been great at trying to find solutions for this project, although I think by now they probably wish I’d never asked them to get involved,” David said. “It has taken much longer than we expected, we had to find new ways to manufacture lenses and we had to be sure they would protect the wearer’s eye health. Behind the scenes, although I had a client who was willing to pay whatever it took, I was also very much aware that he wanted his lenses yesterday!”
Mr. Foresto said although both Capricornia and Corneal Lens Corporation have world leading technology, the process of modifying the scleral contact lenses highlighted existing manufacturing limitations. For example, the laboratories were unable to laser the required grooves to hold the gold rings into the contact lenses… so he decided to do this himself by hand engraving.
“I set the lenses up on a rig after practice hours, and I physically engraved them. It was a horrible material to work with and difficult to get the consistency needed to ensure wearer comfort, but I managed to do it and the gold rings literally sit inside the lens and are sealed by another hard contact lens on top. They look good – extremely striking – though quite thick. My customer was very happy with the design but then he came up with another idea – he wanted to go more subtle, so we started on version two.”
‘Version two’ features a star like design with flecks of gold around the edge of each contact lens. It was technically simpler to achieve with assistance from Jodie Davenport, Professional Services Manager at Capricornia, and thankfully for Mr. Foresto, didn’t necessitate any hand engraving.
Ms. Davenport, who has worked in optics for 30 years, 25 of them at Capricornia, said manufacturing technically complex lenses is something she does every day.
“Most of our work is designing and manufacturing really complicated lenses for diseased or highly irregular or traumatised corneas. I get posed with challenges every day – someone is at one point with their vision and they have a different end point in mind, so I spend my days working out how we can achieve it for them using the very advanced equipment we have.
“When David first came to us he had two designs for his second pair of gold contact lenses and the first we were unable to achieve – the lathe simply wasn’t capable of cutting the dimensions in the positions he wanted. However his second design had very repeatable patterns in specific dimensions. We were able to work it up using AutoCad and complete the engravings on a standard hard contact lens with no trouble. The complexity came with testing to make sure the engravings were deep and wide enough to hold the gold leaf.”
Mr. Foresto said he was thrilled with being able to use laser engraving for version two. “Having achieved the engraving with the precision of the laser, the design is really nice and uniform; version two is now nearing completion, and once successfully imprinted with the gold, it will be shipped to Dubai for fitting by an ophthalmologist.
I particularly love fitting contact lenses for babies – as a student of optometry I didn’t know this was a service that existed
While this was not, by any means, Mr. Foresto’s first unusual request for a contact lens, he believes the two sets of lenses he created for Dubai were probably the first in the world to involve the use of real gold rings and flecks.
And, in taking on this project, he said he has developed technical expertise that can be transferred across to new applications. “As well as working with Capricornia, I worked with a woman who was the prosthetics director for Warner Brothers in Australia to design ‘version two’ of the gold contact lens. She is excited about the prospect of applying the techniques we’ve used to develop this new gold lens in the movie industry.
“I also believe I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to further my development of an image projection system for an augmented reality contact lens, even if it’s just to get it to the point where a company buys the technology from me – I’m excited to think that I can be part of the development process,” he said.
Most importantly, Mr. Foresto said, he hopes the knowledge gained from developing the gold contact lenses will contribute towards the development of further custom lenses to resolve complex vision problems.
“For me, the hardest thing about this project was committing work towards something that on the surface seems very trivial – giving someone with no vision problems whatsoever, a gold coloured eye doesn’t interest me. However, I wanted to stay true to the task because I know there’s a bigger reason… Custom contact lens manufacturing in Australia is in a difficult space – we need to keep pushing our manufacturing potential and keep the bar high,” he said.
Speciality contact lenses is a particular area of interest for Mr. Foresto, who gets great professional satisfaction from dealing with challenging contact lens cases.
“When I started out as an optometrist, I didn’t see myself working in this area – however I found myself chasing opportunities that were more challenging and more rewarding. That’s why working with contact lenses is the perfect subspecialty for me, it’s challenging, it’s never boring, and the visual gains for patients are usually quite large.
“I particularly love fitting contact lenses for babies – as a student of optometry I didn’t know this was a service that existed. To be part of the baby’s life, to be there when they see for the first time, that’s a reason for getting up in the morning. It’s wonderful to see the difference that two pieces of plastic can make to a person’s life.”