Article

HISTORY OF CONTACT LENSES

THE BIRTH OF THE CORNEAL LENS STORY CONTINUES

In the official recording of contact lens history, pivotal names and events have been inadvertently overlooked, then simply “lost.” There’s no better example of this oversight than the story of Dr. Dennis England and his role in the birth of corneal contact lenses.

Dr. England graduated from the Ohio State University School of Applied Optics in 1940 and established an optometric practice in Zanesville, OH. There, he began work on forming a corneal contact lens by cutting out the center of molded polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) scleral lenses and rounding the edges (Figure 1). The tools he used to produce these lenses consisted of two extremely sharp metal pins set a specific distance apart (7.8mm and 11.5mm) that were turned in the center of a scleral lens until a new smaller “corneal” lens was formed. We believe that the contact lenses in Figure 1 may be the oldest PMMA corneal contact lenses in existence today. Ultimately, Dr. England gave these lenses and tools to Newton Wesley. They are now on exhibit as part of the Newton Wesley Foundation Collection at the Contact Lens Museum located in Forest Grove, OR.

Figure 1. Tools and lenses made by Dr. Dennis C. England in 1945. Two lens diameter tools are shown: 7.8mm on the left and 11.5mm on the right.
Photos courtesy of Contact Lens Museum in Forest Grove, OR

In December 1945, Dr. England submitted a patent for his invention of PMMA corneal contact lenses, claiming that it was the object of his invention to provide a contact lens that rests directly on the eye; that eliminates the use of saline solution between the lens and the eye; and that may be easily constructed due to the accurate measurement from the keratometer.

Dr. England’s patent was denied on Oct. 10, 1946 on the basis that:

  1. Corneal clearance was a primary requirement for comfortable contact lens wear.
  2. Eugène Kalt, MD, had described and manufactured corneal contact lenses in 1888.
  3. Many of the eyes described in his patent had keratoconus or other forms of irregular astigmatism, for which K readings were not available.

Following two lengthy and costly petitions for review, a frustrated Dr. England withdrew the patent.

The Next Chapter

The story on the birth of the corneal contact lens ends with Kevin M. Tuohy, an optician from Los Angeles, CA. On Feb. 28, 1948, he submitted a patent application for “a contact lens smaller than the limbal portion of the eye.” The filing of Kevin Tuohy’s patent was more than two years after that of Dr. England. And, as history would have it, this patent, (possibly due to a more lenient patent reviewer) was officially granted as number 2,510,438, on June 6, 1950.

Therefore, had it not been for inadequate funds ($300 to support Dr. England’s third patent review) and the findings of a single patent examiner, contact lens history might have been recorded quite differently.

A Footnote

Interestingly, Dr. England went on to form the DMV Corporation in 1968—the same company still in operation under the guidance of his son, Robert C. England, OD. DMV has recently had a rebirth of its own, primarily providing accessories for the application and removal of scleral lenses—the same device that Dennis England hoped to replace with his invention more than 70 years ago. CLS

For references, please visit www.clspectrum.com/references and click on document #295.