Your sight is essential to almost everything you do. Even if you’re not the sort of person to be overly concerned with regular visits to the gym and a whole-food low-carb diet-sensitive meal plan, chances are you’re motivated to take care of your eyesight. It’s so integral to your day to day life; the way you work, the way you entertain yourself, and the way you move through the world.
Eye care as an industry is experiencing an exciting wave of innovation in everything from sight enhancement to vision correction treatments and even repair. Whether you’re interested in next-level vision experiences, looking for solutions to a particular concern, or motivated by the investment and career opportunities opening up, eye care innovation is a field to keep a close eye on.
Many Causes for Vision Impairment
While assistive technologies are improving dramatically with the growth of next-generation voice assistants, most people would still prefer to have functional vision than to rely on alternate technological solutions. Unfortunately, there are many things that can cause vision impairment and functional challenges to eyesight.
Seniors are at higher risk of developing conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, and the link between diabetes and vision loss is well established. A growing number of small children are being diagnosed with vision problems thought to stem from too much screen time, and the effects of blue light from our digital devices on all of us still hasn’t been fully explored.
Diagnostic tools and approaches to screening and treatment
Diagnostic tools and approaches to vision screening and treatment are subject to regular advances at the moment. An expert in the field, Rohit Varma, is researching eye disease epidemiology and new imaging techniques for early glaucoma diagnosis and is also developing implantable pressure sensors and drainage devices.
Lenses and implants
Lenses and implants are one main area of ongoing research and development. A Google subsidiary is working on a contact lens that would be able to sense blood glucose levels and offer diabetes patients a non-invasive, app-based way to manage their condition, while other projects investigate the possibility of early detection of neuro-degenerative effects that could point to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Virtual and augmented reality treatments via current headset technology are being developed to treat some vision problems such as amblyopia, but contacts are being explored as a future option in this field.
Implants are also being developed to deliver drugs over a period in controlled doses and to act as retinal prosthetics, while smart contacts that could diagnose conditions and go beyond typical healthy vision are being explored. The next generation might offer augmented or virtual reality, internet connectivity, or hook up to your mobile device.
In a logical-yet-bizarre move, contact-sunglasses are also being explored as an option. Much like the treated eyeglasses that transition between clear and tinted depending on light levels, these contacts would automatically darken when exposed to bright light. Whether the benefits will outweigh the aesthetic concerns remains to be seen.
Innovations in Diagnostics
In diagnostics, the same Google subsidiary is working on artificial intelligence-based retinal pathology diagnosis, and multiple teams are developing smartphone-based devices that could provide easy mobile or remote imaging. A New Zealand based company has already launched a retinal-imaging adaptor for smartphones.
Hong Sheng Chiong and Benjamin O’Keeffe have made the plans open source and claim that they are not only a hundredth of the cost of traditional equipment but could be downloaded and 3D printed locally. That kind of accessible, low-cost diagnostic technology could expand vision care services to remote locations around the world and may prompt (and necessitate) significant further innovation among traditional vision care providers and suppliers.
Another creative innovation is a project to crowdsource sight. Sighted volunteers could provide audio feedback to low-vision patients in real time using a combination of peripherals and mobile app-based technology. This focuses more on improving quality of life for those with vision impairment. The rise of voice-controlled devices will similarly offer advantages to those requiring assistive technologies.
In direct treatment, eye drops are being developed to correct vision problems. One project investigates stimulating cell regrowth to correct damage. Another, developed by researchers at Bar-Ilan University, is exploring the possibility of corrective eye drops in the place of more traditional technologies such as contacts, eyeglasses, or laser correction. The intention is for patients to use the drops and a smartphone to self-correct vision at home without medical assistance, providing an enormous democratization and globalization benefit compared to current offerings.
Current research and development is enormously exciting from multiple perspectives. Patients can look forward to more accessible and convenient treatments, and potentially, treatments that address and correct conditions that are currently difficult or impossible to treat.
Eye care providers have a great deal of change to adjust to and may have a steep learning curve to keep up with over the coming years but are also going to be equipped with more and better tools. Researchers are opening up new opportunities and creating entirely new approaches and specializations. And, of course, investors and entrepreneurs in the vision care arena have great things to look forward to.
What are you doing to take good care of your eyes?
Have you benefited from innovations in vision diagnostics and treatment?
Share your thoughts and comments with us.
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