Contact lenses as springboard to more

‘Growing numbers of infections due to dirty lenses,’ was a recent headline of Dutch news broadcaster NOS. Ophthalmologists raised the alarm because the incorrect use of contact lenses is leading to a growing number of eye inflammations. The start-up company LipoCoat from Twente has developed a solution for this problem. ‘We can place a coating on the lenses so that they become dirty less quickly. This offers a relatively cheap way of preventing eye problems,’ says CEO Jasper van Weerd.

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photocredits: Shutterstock

Contact lenses become dirty while they are being worn. If people wear their lenses too long and fail to clean them often enough or use the wrong cleaning products, then persistent dirt builds up on the lenses. Due to this dirt in the form of proteins and fats, the lenses cause irritation, for example because too much tear fluid evaporates resulting in dry eyes. In addition the lens can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which leads to eye infections.

highlight Contactlenzen Jasper_van_Weerd_Emiel_MuijdermanJasper van Weerd, CEO LipoCoat (photo: Emiel Muijderman)

The young company LipoCoat recently received a Valorisation Grant from NanoNextNL for the further development of its patented method to deposit very thin layers of a material similar to tear drops on the lenses. This layer ensures that the lenses do not become dirty and people can wear their lenses for longer without getting irritated eyes.

Our coating is similar to the outside of human cells. With our patented process we can apply those coatings in such a way that they remain stable. These layers do not elicit rejection responses in the human body.

Stable layers similar to cells

‘Our coating is similar to the outside of human cells,’ says entrepreneur Jasper van Weerd. ‘With our patented process we can apply those coatings in such a way that they remain stable.’ These so-called biocompatible layers, materials that do not elicit rejection responses in the human body, already existed, he says. ‘But they were very unstable. If such a layer came into contact with an air bubble it fell apart.’ During his PhD research at the Univeristy of Twente funded by NanoNextNL, Van Weerd investigated the properties of biocompatible coatings and he developed a process to apply stable layers several nanometres thick to a surface.

Friendly process

The process consists of different steps that are not harmful for the material to which the coating is applied, explains Van Weerd. ‘We do not use high temperatures or high pressures but a mild plasma treatment. For example, this treatment does not influence the transparency and refractive index of the material that you coat, which is important for an application on contact lenses.’

Our coatings can, in principle, be applied to all materials that come into contact with body fluids. Because all of these face the same problem: proteins, fats and bacteria that deposit on these and can give rise to infections.

Targeting the technology at the contact lens industry

Over the next few years LipoCoat will first focus on coating hard contact lenses. Van Weerd explains this choice: ‘Our coatings can, in principle, be applied to all materials that come into contact with body fluids. Because all of these face the same problem: proteins, fats and bacteria that deposit on these and can give rise to infections. We have carried out market research into this on items such as catheters and tubes for tube feeding. For example, a catheter gets covered in bacteria within 30 minutes, so significant gains could be made. In the end we chose to first of all prove our technology in the contact lens industry. Clients are asking for a solution and lens manufacturers are keen to get their hands on one. And there is a very practical aspect for us: in this market the approval procedures are less long than they are for more medically focused applications that are used in the body.’

Lens manufacturers want safety and lens wearing comfort

The lens wearing comfort of current contact lenses is not satisfactory enough. Lens manufacturers are looking for a product that sets itself apart from the competition. ‘We are starting with hard lenses. In general, people wear these for longer. And hard lenses are more expensive: the price per lens can be up to 300 euros. Our process results in a small increase in the cost price, which is only a fraction of the sale price. Lens manufacturers have indicated that they want to assume more responsibility for the lens wearing comfort. At present that is often still a responsibility of the end user who has to clean his lenses often enough. Manufacturers want to be able to deliver a product with a guaranteed safety and superior lens wearing comfort. With this approach they hope to strongly increase their market share and, for example, to win back earlier lens wearers who have now switched to wearing spectacles.’

We can manufacture the coating in such a way that it attracts certain cells. That is interesting for hip implants, for example, as with a special coating you can allow these to be covered with the body’s own bone cells faster.

Attracting cells

The coating must keep the contact lenses clean. However the technology can be used for more than just preventing contamination, says Van Weerd. ‘By changing the composition of the coating its function changes as well. We can manufacture the coating in such a way that it attracts certain cells. That is interesting for hip implants, for example, as with a special coating you can allow these to be covered with the body’s own bone cells faster.’

Manufacturers are in the starting blocks

LipoCoat will be officially founded as a limited company in 2016. The first funding has already been obtained. This includes the Valorisation Grant from NanoNextNL, the first investment from the Dutch Student Investment Fund, and a voucher from NanoLabNL. ‘We have used the NanoLabNL facilities to characterise our layers. Which conditions result in which type of layer? What determines stability in different environments? Which parameters can be altered to satisfy different requirements for different applications? We will use the Valorisation Grant of 93,000 euros to make the transition from a process in the lab to something that we can show clients. We will test this so-called demonstrator on contact lenses: manufacturers are already in the starting blocks.’

More information

Website LipoCoat
News release NOS: Growing number of eye infections due to dirty lenses
News release University of Twente: Grant of almost 100,000 euros for University of Twente spin-off LipoCoat