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Science minister gets first sight of new sight-saving technology

27 June 2013

Science minister, David Willetts has been shown the ‘Sleep Mask’ prototype – the world’s first non-invasive treatment for common sight loss conditions.

The Polyphotonix Sleep Mask (image: Northumbria University)
The Polyphotonix Sleep Mask (image: Northumbria University)

The development - by Northumbria University’s Northern Design Centre (NDC) - will save the need for expensive hospital treatment. The Gateshead-based Centre brings together businesses and community research users with leading academic staff to develop entrepreneurial and business skills in the region.

The sleep mask is one example of the types of collaboration available through the NDC and could save the sight of hundreds of millions of people with diabetes-related eyesight problems, without the need for surgery.

Led by Dr Stuart English, a specialist in design-led innovation, the team have collaborated with PolyPhotonix to design the world’s first non-invasive primary care treatment for diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular eye disease.

PolyPhotonix – based in County Durham – designs, develops and manufactures photonic-based primary care medical devices and has worked with designers at Northumbria to develop ‘Sleep Mask’ as a home-based prevention treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina when new fragile blood vessels start to grow and often leak blood and fluid. It is the leading cause of preventable blindness among working-age individuals in developed countries. 

Current treatments for the disease are laser photocoagulation and intraocular injections – procedures that are highly invasive, hospital-based and expensive. The new Sleep Mask prototype, which is currently undergoing extensive clinical trials, is a home-based, non-invasive, monitored therapy and will be delivered at a fraction of the current treatment costs.

Dr English said: “The innovation resulting from this research is expected to have significant international impact. Diabetes is a disease affecting millions throughout the world and a 50 percent increase in global diabetes has been forecast between 2010 and 2030. 
“The product we have developed with PolyPhotonix is a treatment for macular eye disease that is non-invasive, saving lots of money over existing treatments such as using lasers and injections into the eye.”

The diabetic population in the UK is estimated at 3.5 million, and globally at 320 million, with growth rates described as a global epidemic. Around 90 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes will develop Diabetic Retinopathy within 10 years and 67 percent of those with Type 2 diabetes will develop Diabetic Retinopathy within a decade.

Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said: “Combining high-quality research expertise with business innovation is an important part of Northumbria University’s mission as a research engaged, business-focussed, professional university. Our values and aims are directly reflected in the Northern Design Centre and the work that will be undertaken there.

“The Sleep Mask prototype presented at the NDC is testament to the world-changing inventions and technological advancement that our academics are already playing a key role in.”

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