Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Two Oxford start-ups fight blindness in different ways


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: November 15th, 2017

Two Oxford University start-ups are fighting blindness in different ways, one with a mechanical solution, and the other with a gene therapy innovation.

The former, OxSight, is using augmented reality glasses to enhance limited vision. Its device takes advantage of the way human vision is assembled: not only with the eyes, but also through lobes in the brain that organize colors, contrasts and dimensions.

“Even when someone is losing their sight, they still have a good brain that’s trying to understand and pick up clues from objects, if given enough input,” says Stephen Hicks, an Oxford neuroscientist and OxSight co-founder.

Teaming up with Oxford computer-vision scientist Philip Torr, Hicks and the OxSight team created a pair of augmented-reality glasses that help the vision-impaired make sense of their surroundings in real time by spotlighting specific visual cues and overlaying them on the lenses.

“For instance, if you have tunnel vision and issues with color perception, they’d emphasize colors,” says Hicks. “If you have got glaucoma and your vision is blurry, the glasses will enhance the salience of certain objects.”

The OxSight device is run through a mobile phone — so far, the glasses work on Android — and the start-up is currently undergoing trials with people across the UK who are suffering a range of vision impairments such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetic retinopathy. Users have reported that the glasses enable them to avoid obstacles, see blurry faces clearly, and read from slides.

“Most pilot users find them to be life-changing,” says Hicks. The device is scheduled for release in late 2017.

The second Oxford start-up is advancing a novel gene therapy program to treat Stargardt disease.

Nightstar Therapeutics, a clinical stage company focused on rare inherited retinal diseases, has licensed the gene therapy program from Oxford Innovation, the university’s tech transfer company. The technology targets the ABCA4 protein, mutations of which are linked to Stargardt disease, the most common form of inherited juvenile macular dystrophy.

Stargardt disease usually develops during childhood and adolescence, leading to blindness by the age of twenty. Mutations in the ABCA4 protein are inherited from both parents of an affected individual. Currently, there are no treatment options for Stargardt disease.

“This licensing of this novel gene therapy program exemplifies our commitment to developing treatments for patients suffering from inherited retinal diseases that would otherwise lead to blindness,” says CEO of Nightstar Dave Fellows. “We plan to leverage our clinical experience with choroideremia and X-linked retinitis pigmentosa to accelerate the development of this exciting program for the unmet medical need in Stargardt disease.” The terms of the licensing deal have not been disclosed.

Sources: Wired and Nasdaq

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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