When you're visually impaired, you get excited about two things: breakthroughs in science that could lead to a cure, and technology that can improve or enhance your vision until that breakthrough comes.
Here are a few things that I personally find exciting:
1. A new eye institute in Basel, Switzerland
The Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel (IOB) was founded in December 2017 by the University of Basel, the University Hospital Basel and Novartis to bridge the gap between research and clinical studies related to eye diseases. The institute operates as a foundation and can therefore explore the science freely, without having to worry about returning capital to impatient investors.
Prof. Hendrik Scholl (clinical research) and Prof. Botond Roska (molecular research) are working together with their team to find innovative treatments for diseases like macular and retinal degenerations.
I've met both and they are a fantastic duo!
2. Improving sight with augmented reality (AR)
In the Fall of 2015, I went to the WIRED UK conference in London, which was mind blowing. During the break, I walked around the exhibit hall and started chatting with someone at a booth called GiveVision. The person was telling me about AR glasses they were developing to help people with low vision. Fast forward to three years later and I have lunch with Stan Karpenko, the co-founder and CEO, in San Francisco!
Fun fact: one of the startup's backers is Russian gazillionaire Roman Abramovich.
3. FDA approves gene therapy for inherited retinal disease
A few months ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first gene therapy for a genetic disease, which happens to be related to the retina. The drug, Luxturna, was developed by Spark Therapeutics, a publicly-traded biotech company based in Philadelphia. The one-time gene therapy is indicated for the treatment of patients with confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy.
Want to learn more about gene therapy? Click here.
4. Did you say 3D-printed corneas?
There are more than 10 million people around the world waiting for a corneal transplant, and researchers at the Newcastle University in the UK may have found a solution to the shortage of corneas. Scientists there recently published a paper about their findings in Experimental Eye Research, showing that a cornea can be 3D-printed as a series of concentric circles in less than 10 minutes.
This is a proof-of-concept and it can take years to perfect, but it could be a great solution down the line.
5. A smart sonar wristband that helps you navigate
You know how dolphins use echolocation (or sonar) to help them see and communicate? Well, now humans with low vision can do the same. Sunu, which graduated from Y Combinator last summer, manufactures and sells a smart band that helps you navigate and "feel" the world around you. It uses built-in sensors to detect objects up to 16 feet or 5.5 meters away, sending haptic vibrations to let you know how close or far you are to obstacles. The Sunu Band is meant to compliment the white cane and guide dog.
It costs $299 and you can buy it here.
Hope this was helpful! I'm actually working on a platform for the visually impaired which I'm really excited about! So stay tuned :)