Seeing a Brighter Future

Seeing a Brighter Future

Seeing a Brighter Future

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen have been awarded over £119,000 towards pioneering research which could result in a major breakthrough in the detection of glaucoma, which is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the world.

The team were given a grant from the Scottish Enterprise's Proof of Concept (PoC) Fund, which supports leading-edge technologies in Scotland's academic institutions, and aims to help export innovation from the lab into the global marketplace.

The award was one of five grants worth £900,000 given to the University of Aberdeen by the Fund for groundbreaking research. It was the highest number of awards given to any Scottish institution in the PoC Fund Round Five Awards.

The money given to The Aberdeen Glaucoma Test (AGT) is funding research into the development of a computer based test, which should identify the disease far earlier than current techniques currently in use.

Dr Arash Sahraie, Senior Lecturer with the University's School of Psychology, is leading the work on the AGT, which is being undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Ophthalmology of NHS Grampian. Dr Paul Kinnear, Head of the School of Psychology, and Dr Augusto Azuara-Blanco, Consultant Ophthalmologist, are co-investigators in the research which began six years ago.

Dr Sahraie said: "We're very excited by the findings of our research so far. Our test would appear to detect the condition much earlier than other tests and before any loss of sight has occurred."

Dr Sahraie added: "We're developing our technique to turn it into a product that we hope will be suitable for widespread commercial use. We hope our test will eventually be available in opticians, doctors' surgeries and hospitals."

Glaucoma describes a group of eye diseases in which there is progressive damage of the optic nerve characterised by a specific pattern of optic nerve head and visual field loss, and can lead to blindness if untreated.

In the UK it is thought 250,000 people over the age of 40 have some form of glaucoma. However, only 150,000 have been identified and are being treated. This is due to the fact that early-stage glaucoma may be overlooked as it affects only peripheral vision with central vision becoming affected at later stages of the disease.

When vision is lost it cannot be restored, however, early detection of the disease, may enable medical or surgical intervention to prevent further sight loss.

Dr Sahraie added: "We want to prevent any loss of sight. Some people's careers depend on them having 100% vision. Glaucoma is a substantial social burden to the sufferer, and it is also an economic burden to the health service. A test that could detect the disease before any vision has been lost, could make a big difference."

Dr Liz Rattray, Company Development Manager with the University's Research and Innovation department said: "It's absolutely tremendous that the world class research which is taking place at the University is being recognised and funded by Scottish Enterprise. These awards will go a long way towards our target of taking our knowledge and expertise into the commercial world.

"The fact that we have been given five awards from the Proof of Concept Fund - the highest number given to any organisation - demonstrates the innovative work and vibrancy for which the University is internationally known."

Two of the other University projects which received funding could lead to significant health benefits and the remaining two could benefit the oil and gas sector.

* The Proof of Concept Fund was launched by the Scottish Executive and implemented by Scottish Enterprise in 1999 as a three year £11M fund - but its success led to this being extended to a £33M fund over six years.

It awards grants to assist the pre-commercialisation of leading edge technologies emerging from Scotland's universities, research institutes and NHS Trusts. Its goal is to help researchers take their ideas and inventions out of the lab and develop them commercially into ground-breaking Scottish businesses.

Further information on the projects supported by the Fund can be found at:

www.scottish-enterprise.com/proofofconceptfund

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