By Linda Conlin, Pro to Pro Managing Editor

What happens when someone who needs medically necessary scleral contact lenses loses the dexterity to insert and remove them? Why, he invents a robot to do it for him! A recent report by CNN told the story of this remarkable robot and its inventor, Craig Hershoff of Miami, Florida.

In 2000, Hershoff was diagnosed with Fuch’s dystrophy, a degenerative corneal disease. In Fuch’s dystrophy, cells in the corneal endothelium die off. Those endothelial cells normally pump fluid from the cornea to keep it clear. In their absence, fluid builds up in the cornea resulting in cloudy vision. The excess fluid can form blisters that enlarge and break, a painful condition that can result in corneal scarring, further obstructing vision. While there are treatments for Fuch’s dystrophy, there is no cure. Corneal scarring, especially centrally, may require a corneal transplant to restore vision.

That’s what happened to Hershoff. He received three corneal transplants over ten years. Ultimately, semi-scleral RGP contact lenses restored his vision to 20/20. Semi-scleral RGP lenses are large diameter GP lenses that vault the cornea and rest on the sclera. Because of their size, patients may find these lenses more difficult to handle. Unfortunately for Hershoff, a bout with anxiety caused his hands to shake, so inserting and removing the lenses became increasingly difficult. Hershoff knew he had to do something to make sure he would always be able to handle his lenses. He developed the Contact Lens Insertion and Removal Apparatus, or Cliara.

Here’s how Cliara works. The robot has a camera attached to the device, which consists of suction cups to measure the exact pressure needed to insert or remove the lenses. The user looks down into the camera to see a real-time video of the insertion or removal with the opposite eye. That way, the user can control the entire procedure. On user voice command, the device will extend to the eye and stop on contact detected by highly precise sensors. After insertion or removal, the robot retracts. Hershoff notes that patients should consult with an optometrist to be sure the device, once available, will be appropriate for them.

Cliara is currently undergoing clinical trials in Boston for FDA approval, and may be commercially available next year. Hershoff believes the device will be helpful to contact lens wearers who have dexterity issues, or even those who are afraid of touching their eyes.

Learn more about how contact lenses are used in the treatment of eye injury and disease with our CE, Therapeutic Contact Lenses and Beyond, at