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Azul Optics Ltd – From visual ecology to human health

Copyright: Richard Ling, Wikimedia Commons by CC 2.0

Researchers from the University of Bristol have developed a unique device that can be used to test people for one of the risk factors for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the UK.

Dr Shelby Temple is now commercialising the technology through spin-out company Azul Optics. The innovation arose from BBSRC-funded research on the ability of coral reef fish to see polarized light, led by Dr Nick Roberts, also of the University of Bristol.

The new device can be used by optometrists to help detect the amount of pigment in a region of the eye called the macula. Low macular pigment density is one of the risk factors for AMD, which makes everyday activities such as driving and reading difficult.

Data breakout

1 minute Time taken to complete test on new device (compared to 5-15 minutes for other similar tests)
2,000,000 Number of people in the UK affected by AMD
600,000 Number of people suffering impaired central vision due to AMD

Using the device, optometrists or patients themselves can test macular pigment density in less than a minute. The device is also small – the core technology can be reduced to the size of a can of soup – and is inexpensive to produce, meaning that it could be deployed in any optometry office and incorporated into standard eye tests.

"Our goal is that in future every regular eye exam would include this test," says Temple. "We’d like to have a device… sitting in a waiting room and you could test your own eyes and take away some information about eye disease and your diet and health."

The original work was supported by a £325k BBSRC responsive mode grant to Roberts to investigate the mechanisms in certain vertebrate eyes that allowed them to see polarized light. For this, he used a species of tropical reef fish Chromis viridis that can see polarized light. As the project developed, the researchers realised the device could be used to learn more about how humans detect polarization.

Commercialisation of the technology has been supported by Innovate UK, HEFCE, the Bristol Vision Institute and a BBSRC/Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship.

Read the full impact evidence report:

Azul Optics Ltd – From visual ecology to human health (PDF 691KB)

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Header image copyright: Richard Ling, Wikimedia Commons by CC 2.0