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Subspecialties Basic & Translational Research, Imaging & Diagnostics, Business and Innovation

A Clever Patch for Smart Tech

Ophthalmic technology is constantly advancing to meet the demands of eye healthcare, but there is one overarching issue that remains challenging: effective monitoring. Many eye conditions develop and change slowly over time, with fluctuations in biomarkers throughout the day – IOP in glaucoma is a well-known example of this. And that makes the job of an ophthalmologist difficult because patients cannot be kept in the clinic 24 hours a day. What if we could monitor these key outputs consistently and continuously? 

Today, we live in a world of smart tech; everyone has a computer in their pocket (and sometimes on their wrist), which may track the biological data of its owner. The application of this principle has manifested in the ophthalmic field as smart ocular devices – and smart contact lenses have probably gained the most publicity. These devices can theoretically transmit data recordings from the eye to a device, such as a mobile phone or cloud-based system, but there are barriers to making these lenses a reality. A smart contact lens needs two crucial components: a power source and connectivity – but wires are not practical for use throughout the day for obvious reasons. And if the power source is in the contact lens, the eye becomes the immediate site of damage if the battery were to degrade – a major fear factor for end users is that the battery will leak.

Patch perfect

The main issue here is real estate. As with any property, the most valuable variables are size, location, location, and location. Instead of trying to connect a power source through wires connected to the lens, or having an on-site battery that is either impractical because of the size and space available or just dangerous because of the location, we need a space that can house the power source and transmitter in a nifty location, away from the actual eye. This allows the ocular space to be occupied with application focused technology, rather than the means to power and transmit data in one cramped location. 

And that’s where Blink Energy comes in. We are developing a miniaturized patch device that sits comfortably on an eyelid, and contains a battery-based power source with a microchip system, antenna design, and Bluetooth enabled transmitter that can link with smart ocular devices, to and from a mobile phone. 

With our patch technology, regardless of gaze position or blinking movements of the patient, the transmission remains continuous, which was a huge breakthrough during development. The patch is charged in a wireless charging case in the same way that wireless earbuds are charged. When worn, the patch is unnoticed by the user, and unseen by everyone else because it recedes into the fold of the upper eyelid. The user can wear it throughout the day, sleep with it in place, and even go swimming with it – all while the device is recording and transmitting data. 

Comfort and convenience are important for compliance (and patient compliance and acceptance of the technology are crucial if we want smart ocular technologies to eventually be routinely used), but the other key factor is the proximity of the smart device to the eye. The short distance between the eyelid and eye means that the efficiency of power transmission is very high, and the higher efficiency of transmission, the smaller the battery and the overall device footprint on the eyelid.

Helping smart people build smart applications

Providing patients with access to at-home care with real-time monitoring and real-time treatment is something that many people in ophthalmology talk about, but few have achieved. Certainly, the list of potential applications for smart ocular technology is long – and the resulting market could be huge. 

As one example, consider glaucoma management; we all know that eye drop compliance is a huge issue; in the first year, half of patients are likely to stop using eye drops (for various reasons). How motivated would patients be if they could clearly and instantly see the effectiveness of eye drop use? And what would the resulting outcomes look like? 

Smart ocular technologies could also help with clinical trials and clinical research. In most clinical studies, data is only collected at certain time points when participants see their clinician, and sometimes patients may miss appointments. By using a real-time monitoring device, researchers don’t lose data points. For clinical validation and evaluation, this extra information could be a breakthrough. In addition, consider the impact on patient selection. With real-time data on key disease biomarkers, researchers could categorize patient disease much more accurately, making it much easier to select the appropriate patients for a drug trial. In the same vein, more accurate patient data could inform the drug regimen.

Background in a Blink

I’m the CEO of Blink Energy and an entrepreneur by heart. I previously founded another ophthalmic company, Orca Surgical. I co-founded Blink Energy with two others: CMO Ziv Rotfogel and CTO Nadav Cohen. Rotfogel and Cohen holds the premium patent for the technology, and they also have the patent for a harvesting unit that collects energy out of blinking movement. There were some really crazy ideas in the early stages of the company! Since then, we have changed our focus. For the last 2 years, we were part of an incubator situated in the north of Israel called MindUp, where we secured our first seed round from the IIA, the Israeli Innovation Authority. In addition, the company finalized an investment from Ceyeber for US $1 million, to an overall seed round of $2.3 million. 

Where are we?

We have successfully completed the first proof of concept of our approach on our animatronic, so the next step is to miniaturize all of the electronics and incorporate them into the blink patch. We expect to have a working prototype with a signaling smart lens that can be worn on the eyelid by the end of 2023. 

Bill Trattler and Karl Srtonecipher have joined our scientific advisory board to lead our clinical vision towards better eye care. Their take on the future of smart ocular devices matches our ongoing goals for the technology – “The first step toward digital eyecare would be to eliminate patient compliance by miniaturizing the power and data management system to fit sensors and other smart ocular devices requirements.”

My ideal future vision for the company and technology is very simple: We want to be the go-to device diagnostic platform for power and connectivity in the world of ophthalmology – and we’d also like to change the future of recreational smart tech use while we’re at it!

The adoption of smart technology is only trending in one direction – and the metaverse and augmented reality applications will only compound the growth. Our patch? Well, it’s a bridge to that future. 

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About the Author
Yariv Bar-On

CEO & Co-founder of BlinkEnergy

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