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A Decade of Silicone Hydrogel Development: Surface Properties, Mechanical Properties, and Ocular Compatibility

Tighe, Brian J. Ph.D.

Eye & Contact Lens: Science & Clinical Practice: January 2013 - Volume 39 - Issue 1 - p 4–12
doi: 10.1097/ICL.0b013e318275452b
Review Article

Abstract: Since the initial launch of silicone hydrogel lenses, there has been a considerable broadening in the range of available commercial material properties. The very mobile silicon–oxygen bonds convey distinctive surface and mechanical properties on silicone hydrogels, in which advantages of enhanced oxygen permeability, reduced protein deposition, and modest frictional interaction are balanced by increased lipid and elastic response. There are now some 15 silicone hydrogel material variants available to practitioners; arguably, the changes that have taken place have been strongly influenced by feedback based on clinical experience. Water content is one of the most influential properties, and the decade has seen a progressive rise from lotrafilcon-A (24%) to efrofilcon-A (74%). Moduli have decreased over the same period from 1.4 to 0.3 MPa, but not solely as a result of changes in water content. Surface properties do not correlate directly with water content, and ingenious approaches have been used to achieve desirable improvements (e.g., greater lubricity and lower contact angle hysteresis). This is demonstrated by comparing the hysteresis value of the earliest (lotrafilcon-A, >40°) and most recent (delefilcon-A, <10°) coated silicone hydrogels. Although wettability is important, it is not of itself a good predictor of ocular response because this involves a much wider range of physicochemical and biochemical factors. The interference of the lens with ocular dynamics is complex leading separately to tissue–material interactions involving anterior and posterior lens surfaces. The biochemical consequences of these interactions may hold the key to a greater understanding of ocular incompatibility and end of day discomfort.

Biomaterials Research Unit, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Brian J. Tighe, Ph.D., Biomaterials Research Unit, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Aston University, Birmingham B4ET, United Kingdom; e-mail:

B.J.T. received an honorarium from CLAO for presenting the paper at the SiHy symposium (Silicone Hydrogel Lenses - Ten Years Later) and preparation of the manuscript for this special issue of Eye & Contact Lens.

The author has no other funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Accepted September 19, 2012

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.