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LED ‘sleep mask’ tackles causes of sight-loss

Twelve years ago, British artist Richard Kirk became fascinated by a small piece of electroluminescent material. It was made of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).

OLEDs emit light when an electric current is passed through organic molecules or polymers. They have a conductive layer as thin as human hair, which makes them flexible and adaptable.

Despite having no scientific background, Richard instantly recognised the potential of the technology to revolutionise the way lighting is designed.

Revolutionary technology

Richard founded the company PolyPhotonix in partnership with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), with support from the Innovate UK High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

“CPI’s deep knowledge of the R&D process means they understand how long it can take to get an innovative product to market, and this forms their attitude to investment,” said Richard.

“Their management and scientific expertise has also helped us to fund much of our research through grants and competitions.”

Since 2008, Innovate UK has provided PolyPhotonix, CPI and its research partners with £12 million of grant funding to develop OLED technology.

The company is now on the verge of revolutionising treatment for degenerative sight-threatening conditions caused by age and diabetes.

Shedding light on eye disease

PolyPhotonix’s flagship product, Noctura, is a non-invasive device for people suffering from diabetic retinopathy.

The disease affects 90% of people in the UK with type 1 diabetes. It happens when the blood vessels in the retina change form, causing damage to the lens and eventually leading to blindness. One of the two main treatments currently available to patients costs around £12,000 to treat per eye per year.

“The potential costs, both human and financial, facing health services around the world are deeply sobering. There’s an urgent need for an effective, repeatable, value for money treatment,” said Richard.

PolyPhotonix identified a clear gap in the market for a product that would tackle the root cause of the disease.

Its Noctura 400 and 500 devices prevent damage caused during sleep by hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, when the eye adapts to darkness. This in turn prevents the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which are a symptom of the disease and contribute to loss of vision.

Similar in appearance to sleep masks used on aircrafts, the devices use light as part of the treatment process, and contain sophisticated electronics to control the energy levels of light emitted to a patient, manage the dosage, and monitor the patient’s use of the treatment.

Global market

Richard soon recognised the big export potential for the Noctura devices, since diabetes is a growing global epidemic with no country untouched.

Early stage research for Noctura 400 was carried out at Liverpool University, and PolyPhotonix is now supplying the product to a Phase III trial led by Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

“The Noctura 400 treatment has the potential to save more than £1billion per year from NHS budgets,” said Richard.

“We’re working closely with UK universities and have five trials running concurrently, looking at various aspects of the treatment.”

More recently, with the help of an SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative contract with the NHS, the company is developing a patient care pathway model to guide the eventual approval and adoption of the treatment by NICE and the NHS.

Richard hopes that the treatment could be in general use by the end of 2015.

“Innovate UK has also been fantastic. We couldn’t have done any of this without it,” said Richard.

“We’ve received grants for feasibility studies to fund our university partners, benefitted from the Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme, and SBRI is supporting our clinical trials and NHS programmes.”

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