Contact Lens Design & Materials

To Celebrate 25 Years, a Trip Back to the Beginning

Contact Lens Design & Materials

To Celebrate 25 Years, a Trip Back to the Beginning

By Neil Pence, OD, FAAO

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Contact Lens Spectrum, let's look back at what was happening in contact lens materials and designs 25 years ago.

The Premier Issue

In 1986, conventional hydrogel and rigid gas permeable contact lenses represented nearly the entire market. Yes, we called them RGPs then (versus GP now), but that was a step up from previously referring to them as “hard” contact lenses.

Younger practitioners might be surprised to learn there were two silicone soft lenses in 1986. Danker Labs had silicone lenses, and the Dow Corning Silsoft pediatric aphakia lens had just been turned over to Bausch + Lomb. Not until the challenge of combining hydrogel and silicone was achieved, however, would the great oxygen permeability potential of silicone be generally realized. Today, silicone hydrogel materials dominate the market.

A big topic in the premier issue: complications arising from extended wear (EW) of contact lenses. EW hydrogels debuted in 1980, and by 1986 practitioners were expressing concern about the incidence of corneal ulcers. Proceeding with greater caution was urged due to serious second thoughts about EW, and an increasing number of voices were advocating daily wear only. Not until significantly higher oxygen levels became possible with silicone hydrogel materials did EW see a rebirth. Despite having four to five times higher oxygen levels compared to original EW lenses, the risk of microbial keratitis with overnight wear remains a significant concern even today.

Disposable lenses as we know them today didn't exist in the United States in 1986. The thought of dispensing a “six pack” would have seemed like science fiction to most, but there was some awareness of it on the horizon. The Dana disposable lens had appeared in Denmark and would soon be purchased by Vistakon, which would be the first to bring the technology and modality to the United States.

Another item in the first issue came from William J. Benjamin, OD, MS, PhD, who postulated that lathe cutting scleral lenses might be possible and that this might allow thinner, better scleral designs as well as make trial sets and trial fitting sclerals possible. Dr. Benjamin (who contributed to this column in 2008) was more than a few years ahead of most in his thinking.

One common feature of the premier issue and of all the years since has been the highly valuable and timely content of this journal. The contact lens field has benefited greatly from having Contact Lens Spectrum these past 25 years.

Strong Leadership

Starting with the founding genius of Neal Bailey, OD, PhD, Contact Lens Spectrum has been extremely blessed by outstanding editors. Joseph Barr, OD, MS, FAAO, followed as the second editor and through his tenure left a huge imprint upon our profession. He richly deserves all the accolades that have come his way and more.

Though a relatively short tenure, Carla Mack, OD, MBA, FAAO, showed that the strong leadership tradition would continue. In 2008, Jason J. Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, took on the editor's mantle. It is clear that he is not just maintaining the tradition, but building on it.

Thanks to all our past and present editors and to all the professional staff involved with publishing this journal. We have benefited tremendously from your tireless efforts and are indebted to all of you. I hope future generations will be as lucky and well served in the next 25 years! CLS

Dr. Pence is director of the Contact Lens Research Clinic, Indiana University School of Optometry in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a consultant or advisor to B+L, Ciba Vision, and Vistakon and has received research funding from AMO. You can reach him at