The macular pigment has an important role in the eye, acting as an optical filter for blue light and providing antioxidant protection to the retina. There is increasing evidence that the macular pigment is important to support vision and may protect against age related macular degeneration (AMD), the western world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness.
AMD is a progressive disease that affects the macular region of the retina, and in 2020 was estimated to affect 170 million people worldwide. Due to a lack of effective treatment modalities for AMD, prevention is of utmost importance. Evidence indicates that nutritional counselling or intervention may be effective in preventing AMD or slowing down its progression. In particular, dietary modification or supplement intake could facilitate the increase of the retinal carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that form the macular pigment.
However, the relationship between supplement intake and macular pigment density is not well determined and research has provided conflicting results. One of the reasons for this may be the lack of a simple, affordable and reliable method that can be used on a wider population level to accurately measure the macular pigment density and precisely detect any changes brought about by nutritional supplementation.
Problem worth solving
Currently, there are only a small number of commercial instruments that measure MPD and these can often be impractical for wide clinical use. These are either psychophysical, requiring the subjective responses of the patients (operating on variants of heterochromatic flicker photometry) or are advanced imaging devices that record hyperspectral images of the macula and surrounding areas of the retina. These instruments are either difficult to use or very expensive, or suffer from poor repeatability of the measurements obtained due to human error. Therefore, despite its potential importance, MPD monitoring has not yet become part of the standard eye examination.
The team is developing a user-friendly, compact and non-invasive instrument based on a new optical approach that can measure the MPD more rapidly, accurately and objectively compared to currently used techniques, and without requiring pupil dilation. The new instrument is set to make MPD measurement easier and more accessible, at a cost-effective price, facilitating routine use and allowing for earlier detection of low MPD. Consequently, interventions may be prescribed earlier to delay the onset or slow the progression of conditions associated with low MPD, such as AMD.
Widespread use of this instrument is expected to allow for large amounts of patient data to be collected, providing a better understanding of the correlation between the MPD and associated conditions, such as AMD, as well as the actual impact of prescribed interventions and lifestyle adjustments on the MPD.
While the new device is expected to enter the macular pigment measurement market, this market is at present not very well-defined due to the limited number and circulation of technologies available on the market for this purpose. The wider market, which is the ophthalmic diagnostic and monitoring devices market, was valued at US$2.41 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach US$3.86 billion by 2026, driven by the growing demand for thesedevices, as the prevalence of eye diseases rises. An important market trend is the accelerated emergence of new technologies facilitated by enabling tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning (ML) and tele-ophthalmology.
The range of different customer types for the instrument include: Hospitals, Ophthalmology Clinics, Diagnostic Laboratories and Research Centers.
There are only two commercially available instruments that are used to measure the MPD in clinical practice. While limited information is available on the status of penetration or sales volumes of these instruments, this is assumed to be quite low due to a number of important limitations. A severe drawback of both devices is that they rely on the patient to press a button in response to the appearance of flicker to take the MPD measurements. As they are dependent on a variable subjective response from the patient, and the ability of the patient to adequately respond to the stimulus, they are prone suffer from poor repeatability and reliability. Here lies an important strength and indeed the main clinical value proposition of the OpMaEye device in relation to the market incumbents: the ability to take MPD measurements objectively, without the need for patient involvement.
OpMaEye is developed by a strong, multi-disciplinary team of leading researchers in optical physics, vision science, biophotonics and image processing at the University of Murcia. The team is reinforced by ophthalmologists through collaboration with the Athens Eye Hospital, one of the largest ophthalmic hospitals in Europe. Important engineering and entrepreneurship competences are also present within the team.