Your vision is your reality. That’s not a fortune cookie quote, but rather a fact of how people live their lives. What your eyes do, how you see, is your norm, you become accepting of it, and even if your vision starts to wane, you begin to accept that as your reality. Couple with that asymptomatic eye diseases, diseases that are not only difficult for the patient to recognize, but doctors as well, and you end up with a troubling result.
“People are going blind in this country when they don’t have to,” said Geoffrey Metcalf, CEO of Lumedica Vision. “And when they go blind, it’s because they don’t know they have a blindness-causing disease, and they don’t know that because when they go to the optometrist, they don’t get the right or best quality eye exam.”
Hailing from Raleigh, N.C., Lumedica is a member of the second annual Luminate NY cohort focused on developing a specialized optical diagnostic device for Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). In layman’s terms, OCT allows optometrists to obtain extremely high-resolution images of eye tissue microlayers, which in turn can give insight into the progression of macular degeneration, glaucoma or other eye conditions that traditional eye tests may not be able to gauge. Lumedica Vision is a spin-off company of Lumedica Systems that is focused specifically on the optometry market.
OCT tech isn’t new, and has a wide variety of applications ranging from optometry to industrial use. However, Lumedica fills a critical gap by making it affordable. Lumedica’s existing OQ LabScope, including a PC, clocks in at $9,995. Although that device is specifically used for research work, Metcalf believes that the transition to the medical world could make a device that is also easily affordable.
“We’re solving this problem by producing a very low-cost system to make diagnostic capability available to everybody, not just the US, but the world,” Metcalf said.
The global market is where optometry diagnostics are most needed. Macular degeneration and presbyopia are simple facts of life, with a 2014 study from the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Anatomy (JECA) reporting that 100 percent of people over the age of 55 suffer from near-sightedness to some degree. It’s not an easily curable condition, but can be treated simply with a glasses prescription. But in order to treat the condition, it has to be first diagnosed, and in developing nations, that is often a tough thing to do.
The JECA study focused specifically on subjects in Owerri, Nigeria, with 845 in the selected control group presenting no outward eye conditions. Upon being given a full ophthalmologic test, 75 percent of the control group were found to have presbyopia. 76.7 percent of the control group did not use eye glasses or any other presbyopia correction.
“Our goal is to have a system that is inexpensive enough that it is able to go to third world applications and to make these diagnostic tools available,” Metcalf said. “One of the things about our system that is very important that is not true of the current systems is that our system will be light enough and robust enough to be portable.”
In that respect, Lumedica has much in common with another member of this Luminate NY cohort: Ovitz, the developer of a handheld device for optical screening. Both Lumedica and Ovitz are tackling a critical problem of approaching optical diagnostics by making it affordable and portable. Lumedica aims to make a device that’s small enough and stable enough to be moved easily without knocking the system out of alignment.
Traditional optical testing systems weigh upwards of 50 pounds and are typically meant to be kept stationary.
“They’re designed where, if you move them, they get knocked out of alignment and don’t work,” Metcalf said. “So we’re imagining that this is something that can be deployed out into the hinterlands, put it in a car, drive it to the next office, putting it up … we expect this to have a big impact for literally billions of people.”
Alongside typical clinical usage, Metcalf sees applications for Lumedica’s system in the military and missionary work.
Born out of Duke University, Lumedica Vision is currently on the approach of building out its first clinical devices.
“Our parent company actually makes a system like this, but they make it for research applications and industrial applications,” Metcalf said. “What we’re doing is using their best technology to create an instrument used for clinical applications, and that’s a different animal.”
As Lumedica moves toward production of their first clinical devices, Metcalf believes the sky is the limit, with a mission dead set on disrupting the current optometric diagnostic landscape.
“The baseline technology is completely appropriate to replacing anything out there because it produces the same quality images; it’s not a downgrade,” Metcalf said. “We expect that once we launch, the big players out there like Zeiss and Heidelberg Engineering are going to start to get a little nervous about what we’re doing, and they’re probably going to start calling us.”
Spotlight on Luminate
Ten companies composed of some of the brightest minds in the field of optics, imaging and photonics are fine-tuning their technologies inside NextCorps’ Luminate NY accelerator. The winners of November’s second Lightning Awards, these companies each received $100,000 in funding, free residency in the accelerator and access to NextCorps’ web of resources and mentoring. On June 27, the most promising of these 10 will receive a total of $2 million in follow-on funding. Originally funded for two years, the Luminate NY accelerator has now been funded for three more years via $15 million in additional state funding.
Leading up to Demo Day, the Rochester Business Journal is featuring profiles of the companies holding the keys to the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s imaging center.