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Business & Profession Neuro-ophthalmology, Basic & Translational Research, Business and Innovation

No More Playing Pirate?

Imagine receiving vision treatment just by watching your favorite television shows. Well, patients with amblyopia could soon be doing just that – with a virtual reality (VR) headset designed to rebalance visual input to both eyes.

The idea is the brainchild of Dean Travers, a former professional skier who became interested in amblyopia after suffering post-concussion vision loss in one eye (20/20 to 20/80). Commenting on the mainstay treatment of patching he said, “Being a pirate isn’t cool for very long” (1), so he endeavored to develop something better, teaming up with fellow Harvard University students (Alex Wendland and Scott Xiao) to form start-up company Luminopia. “We were shocked that patching was still one of the best options to treat the condition, so we started looking into the research and came up with the idea of applying VR,” says Xiao, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer.

David Hunter of Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, is acting as Clinical Advisor to the team. “Nobody likes telling children they have to wear an eye patch all day, and for good reason; patches are uncomfortable, and for kids with amblyopia, they actually cover up the eye that has better vision making it harder to read and even play,” says Hunter. Similarly, he explains that although eyedrops are another option for treatment, they aren’t popular either because of the side effects of pupil dilation and “foggy” vision.

How does the VR system work? “The software designed by the team at Luminopia works by dynamically rebalancing video input through a VR headset," explains Iason Mantagos, also of Boston Children’s Hospital, who is leading an ongoing clinical trial evaluating the headset for binocular stimulation treatment of amblyopia. In the trial, patients wear a 3D headset and watch videos on a smartphone for one hour per day. Split into two four week segments, patients enrolled in the eight week trial were randomized to a ‘full’ treatment group who received the VR therapy from the beginning, or a control group who watched regular videos for the first four weeks before crossing over to the treatment for the remainder of the trial.

Next, the team plans to conduct further validation studies and wants to improve the device before potentially launching the platform in Canada and the US in the next few years. Says Hunter, “The idea that we might soon be able to tell kids that they don’t need a patch or eyedrops, but will ‘have’ to watch their favorite TV show or movie for an hour every day while wearing VR goggles is great news for doctors and parents alike.” And the kids can still play pirates – if they want.

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  1. Vector: Boston Children’s Hospital science and clinical innovation blog, “Can virtual reality headsets save vision in people with lazy eye?”, (2017). Available at: bit.ly/Luminopia. Accessed May 22, 2017.

About the Author

Ruth Steer

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