Reducing the likelihood of developing a leading cause of blindness

Researchers have developed a unique device that can be used to test people for one of the risk factors for age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in the UK.

The macula is a region at the centre of the eye that contains a large concentration of the cone cells that provide our high resolution colour vision.

Over two million people in the UK are affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and over 600,000 suffer impaired central vision due to the disease, which makes everyday activities such as driving and reading difficult, and can make it harder to recognise faces.

The loss of vision can also result in a loss of independence, and this has serious implications for the mental health of people suffering from macular degeneration.

Lifestyle changes such as increasing the amount of leafy green vegetables in the diet, reducing alcohol intake and smoking, and reducing exposure to intense short wavelength (blue) light can help reduce the likelihood of
developing AMD.

The device measures the density of pigments in a part of the eye known as the macula. Low macular pigment density is one of the risk factors for AMD.

The device can be used during regular eye examinations to provide patients with extra information about eye health and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the likelihood of developing AMD, or slow progression of the disease.

Optometrists or even patients themselves can now test macular pigment density easily and affordably.

The innovation arose from bioscience research on the ability of aquatic animals to see polarized light, led by Dr Nicholas Roberts. Dr Shelby Temple, from the School of Biological Sciences developed the new device.

He is now commercialising the technology through a company, Azul Optics, after winning an InnovateUK Aid for Start-Up grant of half a million pounds, as well as a BBSRC/Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship.

The new optometry tool is small – the core technology can be reduced to the size of a tennis ball - and inexpensive to produce, meaning that it could be deployed in any optometry office and incorporated into standard eye tests.

“Our goal is that in future every regular eye exam would include this test,” says Temple. “We’d like to have a device… sitting in a waiting room so you could test your own eyes and take away some information about eye health
and your diet and health.”

Azul Optics is currently developing and testing the existing prototype device and de-risking the business proposition.

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