Studying the ability of octopuses, cuttlefish and coral reef fish to see polarised light – an aspect of light that humans aren’t typically aware they can see – has led to the development of a novel ophthalmic device that can rapidly screen people at increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the world’s leading cause of incurable blindness in people over 55.
Dr. Shelby Temple, PhD, of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, invented a series of unique devices to display polarised light to animals, and in doing so, realised he could see a pattern as well. “What I was seeing was an effect known as Haidinger’s brushes, which happens within the eye when people perceive polarised light. The ability to see this phenomenon is linked to an aspect of eye health and can be an early indicator of disease.
“It became clear that the tools I had developed for octopuses and cuttlefish could be the foundation for a novel ophthalmic device that could rapidly screen people for susceptibility to AMD,” said Dr. Temple.
Dr. Temple was named The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Innovator of the Year 2017 for his ground-breaking work into polarisation and macular degeneration. Additionally, he received the award in the Commercial Impact category.
Dr. Temple’s device is being commercialised by Bristol-based start-up Azul Optics Ltd, of which Dr. Temple is a co-founder. According to Azul Optics, the compact device will make it “easy to integrate macular pigment density screening into regular eye exams”.