Bright Idea: Not a Dry Eye


There is no cure for dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss among older people and an affliction expected to affect some 20 million people in the United States by 2020. But Seattle-based LumiThera may have found a way to slow eye deterioration and improve vision.

The company’s device uses LED light to expose a patient’s eyes to visible and near infrared light at selected wavelenths, a treatment called “photo biomodulation.” LumiThera CEO Clark Tedford says that, in early research, patients treated with the device experienced improved vision. 

Photobiomodulation, sometimes called low-level light therapy, is being used in a growing range of medical applications, from pain reduction to wound healing, although there is some disagreement about its efficacy in certain applications. Applied to eyes, Tedford says that light at the right frequency appears to activate mitochondria in damaged or dormant cells, restoring their key function of producing energy for cell operations and thereby increasing blood flow and promoting healing. 

“This treatment will not have a dramatic impact, but if it stabilizes patients and delays deterioration for one to three years, that’s a major thing,” says Sam Markowitz, an ophthalmology professor at the University of Toronto and an adviser to Lumithera. 

LumiThera received two grants totaling $750,000 from Washington’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund during the past two years before the state eliminated the fund’s budget. The startup has also received two grants from the National Institutes of Technology’s National Eye Institute worth $550,000 to do studies to validate the technology. The company, which says it has patents on using light therapy for AMD as well as for the design of the instrument, expects to close on a $3 million seed round in late fall.

LumiThera hopes to receive approval to sell its device in the European Union by the middle of next year and will go to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval in 2017 or 2018. The company plans to sell the instrument to ophthalmologists and optometrists. It also believes the approach could be used to treat eye problems caused by diabetes and certain genetic diseases.  

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