University of Arizona startup company EPVSensors recently licensed a novel design for a non-invasive eye tonometer that measures intra-ocular pressure through a closed eyelid for glaucoma detection.
The tonometer was developed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students at the UA, and EPVSensors will be using the technology to develop several diagnostic devices targeting the eye care and home diagnostics market.
EPVSensors was founded by the technology's inventors: Eniko Enikov, professor in the UA College of Engineering and a member of the BIO5 Institute, and Dr. Gholam Peyman, retired professor in the ophthalmology department of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.
"We started developing the the technology at the UA around 2008 or 2009, so it’s been about six years now," Enikov says. "We’ve had lots of help from students over the years, as well."
EPVSensors worked with Bob Sleeper, technology licensing manager at Tech Launch Arizona, to license the tonometer. TLA is the unit of the UA that creates social and economic growth by bringing inventions stemming from University research to market.
Today, EPVSensors is ready to take the next step to make the device available to glaucoma patients around the world.
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to permanent loss of vision. The tonometer tests for elevated pressure within the eye, a known cause of glaucoma. Normally, such a test requires a visit to an eye doctor, who numbs the eye and uses specialized instruments to measure direct pressure applied to the cornea with the eye open.
And while other tonometer devices are available, Enikov's and Peyman’s invention is the first that measures eye pressure through the eyelid, with the eye closed.
"Ultimately, it would be ideal if consumers could use it on their own at home," Enikov says. "We hope that the final version will be available over the counter with a perscription."
The device also includes a telemedicine component. As patients with glaucoma must measure their condition frequently — sometimes every hour — this design can transmit its data directly to a doctor, allowing for remote monitoring of the condition. This reduces office visits, lowers costs, and speeds decisions regarding care and medication management.
On the path to market, EPVSensors will need to secure FDA approval, for which it will need to test 150 subjects. At this point, it has tested the desktop device on 12 people.
EPVSensors has received federal funding from Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR — a program that provides R&D funding for joint-venture opportunities between small businesses and nonprofit research institutions — to subcontract a faculty member from the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to further help develop a new handheld version of the tonometer.
"At the UA, there is a great focus on solving real-world challenges, especially in medicine," says Doug Hockstad, senior director of technology transfer at TLA. "We’re excited to see technology like this moving out into the world where it can positively affect people’s lives."
According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide. The condition currently has no cure, although medication and surgery can mitigate further vision loss. Once diagnosed, patients must have their intra-ocular pressure monitored for life to ensure the condition is properly managed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, glaucoma accounts for more than 10 million visits to physicians each year.
Peyman is a retina surgeon and a member of the Ophthalmology Hall of Fame. He has been granted 150 U.S. patents, including intra-ocular drug delivery, surgical techniques and the revolutionary vision correction procedure known as LASIK.