Lazy eye (amblyopia) affects nearly 100 million people worldwide, and is one of the most common eye disorders in children. It is caused when the brain does not communicate with both eyes equally, and can easily be treated by wearing a patch over the stronger eye for several hours a day (which improves vision in the weaker “lazy” eye).
But the treatment can cause discomfort and embarrassment for children and adolescents.
“It’s very easy to understand why kids hate the patch,” says Ran Yam, CEO and co-founder of NovaSight, an Israeli startup that uses eye tracking and data analytics to improve pediatric vision care. “It’s itchy, it’s limiting, there are self-esteem issues connected to it, social stigma.”
Now, children can have their lazy eye treated in the privacy of their own home, by donning what look like 3D-vision glasses, and using a specially developed tablet device to watch their favorite content on YouTube, Netflix or any other streaming service.
CureSight, developed by the startup, tracks the gaze of both eyes in real time using an AI sensor that is built into the tablet. The treatment also includes red-blue glasses, which stream different content to each eye.
Yam’s company is the latest Israeli startup to take on vision care. Some of the other companies working to improve and correct people’s vision include CorNeat Vision, which has developed what it says is the world’s first non-degradable synthetic tissue for ophthalmic surgery; Deep Optics, developer of glasses that can support multiple prescriptions in just one pair; and Notal Vision, which provides patients with a daily home monitoring device that can identify the onset or reactivation of the disease age-related macular degeneration, among many other startups.
However, NovaSight, which was founded in 2016, trains the visual system to use both eyes simultaneously, while the child watches any streamed video content of their choice through red-blue treatment glasses.
The red lens of their CureSight glasses blurs the center of vision of the dominant eye as a patient watches the programming of their choice. The lazy eye, on the other hand, sees a normal, sharp image through the blue lens.
By blurring the center of vision of the dominant eye, CureSight stimulates the brain to use the information of the lazy eye to process the fine details, teaching the brain and the eye to work together. The startup says the child does not notice the blur.
To be able to see, light hits the retina, where cells turn the light into electrical signals, which travel through the optic nerve to the brain, where they become interpreted as the things we see. In the case of amblyopia, the brain “favors” the stronger eye and does not receive as many signals from the weaker, “lazier” eye.
The effectiveness of the CureSight treatment requires a minimum of 90 minutes a day, five days a week, says Yam. Eye care providers can monitor the progress of the dozens of patients who are already undergoing the treatment through the reports that are shared with them via a web portal.
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CureSight has been found to be more effective at correcting the vision of lazy eyes over time, according to the results of a clinical study conducted by the company. Of the patients who used it for four months, 79 percent experienced better vision correction, compared with 61 percent of patients who used the patch for the same amount of time. The study was conducted in six medical centers in Israel.
In the cases of patients who do not train as often as they need to, the company’s monitoring center alerts its team of certified ophthalmic professionals, who will reach out to the patient, explain the importance of training, and encourage them to continue.
A New Kind Of Eye Care
Eye tracking has mostly been used for gaming or in expensive medical devices such as those used for people living with ALS (an incurable disease of the nervous system) and not in eye care, says Yam.
“The technology became more affordable over time, so we took that opportunity in order to integrate it into medical devices for vision care,” he explains.
Additionally, he says that his company is the only one that uses eye tracking to change the content the patient watches while stimulating their brain.
As for NovaSight’s competitors, Yam says he only knows of one other company in the US that has also received FDA approval to treat amblyopia: Luminopia, which streams content to children via VR headsets, and presents the images differently to each eye.
“It is well known that young kids cannot tolerate VR headsets, certainly not for one hour a day, six days a week,” says Yam. “This is one very big limitation for VR solutions as a whole.”
Since the start of the year, dozens of American patients have begun using the treatment. The treatment also has European Union certification and has already been launched in Italy.
And last May, CureSight won Best New Technological Solution – Ophthalmology in the international MedTech Breakthrough Awards.
The treatment is provided to American patients through their insurers, who reimburse NovaSight so long as they are using it for a minimum of 18 hours per month.
“Pediatric vision care suffers from neglect,” says Yam. “We need to adapt to the attention span and vision system of children to diagnose and treat their eye impairments, and this is exactly what we’re doing.”