The Contact Lens Spectrum Event of the Millennium

editor's perspective

The Contact Lens Spectrum Event of the Millennium


To celebrate what most people consider the arrival of the new millennium, we have expanded the scope of our annual Event of the Year. We asked our consulting and contributing editors, as well as other leaders in the contact lens field, to identify the most important event in the past century regarding contact lens development. Those who responded mentioned the hydrogel (soft) contact lens, the corneal (rigid) contact lens, the design and manufacture of soft contact lenses, and the impact of optometry on contact lenses and vice versa. Not everyone mentioned the soft lens as a leading development in the past century, and those of you who are familiar with our Event of the Year know that we don't always choose the most popular or obvious event.

The 20th century began with only glass scleral contact lenses, which later improved to polymethylmethacrylate scleral lenses. The PMMA corneal contact lens was the next vast improvement. It made contact lenses available to the masses and prompted major research. The move from scleral to corneal lenses expanded contact lens use in the United States from 50,000 pairs in 1946 to 200,000 pairs in 1949. "Without the hard work of Drs. Newton Wesley and George Jessen, who trained thousands of practitioners, the interest in contact lenses would have been significantly delayed," declares Ed Bennett, O.D., M.S. And certainly, corneal lens wear has been improved with rigid gas permeable lenses.

The most significant U.S. contact lens event in 1999 was the introduction of the PureVision silicone-hydrogel lens by Bausch & Lomb. The introduction in 1999 of both this lens and CIBA Vision's Focus Night and Day lens, which boasts a similarly high Dk value, was significant on a worldwide scale.

Yet, Otto Wichterle's development of the soft contact lens created log units of growth in the number of wearers. It is the single most prominent breakthrough that will lead to the growth to 100 million contact lens wearers on this planet sometime in the early part of the 21st century. The rapid development of the soft contact lens is no doubt the major event of the past century. "One could argue that the corneal lens started a revolution in contact lenses, but the invention of the soft contact lens was preconceived and brought into being by hard work and innovation that only the rarest of individuals, if any, could have replicated," offers Robert Mandell, O.D., Ph.D. In our Contact Lens Millennium Report issue, we honor Wichterle and his invention, and discuss what's ahead for our field. It is important at this time, however, to acknowledge the time and effort that so many have contributed to contact lenses, as well as to our understanding and acceptance of them.