A PIONEERING treatment to prevent blindness that could save the NHS £1bn a year is being launched this week by a small firm in the North-East.
The sleep masks produced by PolyPhotonix at Sedgefield in County Durham are capable of transforming the treatment of eye disease in diabetes sufferers.
The masks, which have been developed thanks to £14m of taxpayers’ funding, are being offered for the first time anywhere in the world at 10 independent opticians across Durham and the Tees Valley, before an expected national roll out takes place.
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Every day, 728 people in the UK, are diagnosed with type two diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes, which occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells at the back of the eye. If it isn't treated, it can cause blindness.
Unlike traditional treatments for the condition, such as injections and laser therapy, the PolyPhotonix mask called the Noctura 400 is non-invasive and has been designed to be worn at night to deliver a precise dose of light therapy to patients while they sleep.
Extensive trials have produced remarkable results, Richard Kirk, PolyPhotonix chief executive told The Northern Echo.
Ministers and the NHS and have been monitoring developments with growing interest.
The Government is so excited by in the potential benefits of the treatment they have put it on a fast track towards approval by NICE (National Institute for Health Care and Excellence) over the next 12-18 months, meaning it could soon be offered on the NHS.
“The number of people developing diabetes in the UK every year is equivalent to the population of Newcastle,” added Mr Kirk. “We are going with a ‘soft launch’ of the treatment over the next year at a select group of high quality optometrists in places such as Hartlepool, Stokesley, Durham and Middlesbrough.
“Our treatment has the additional benefit of being offered at a much earlier stage than when injections and laser is prescribed. That means we have a much better chance of getting positive results.
“We are even getting results where we have reversed a patients' conditions – their eyesight gets better. This is life-changing stuff,” he added.
The revolutionary treatment has been developed by scientists at the firm's headquarters on the NETPark businesses centre working in labs run by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), in collaboration with North-East universities and a team at Liverpool University.
It has been backed by grant funding from TSB, the Government and the Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare.
PolyPhotonix team of 22, in collaboration with its university researchers have 11 other projects in development to tackle eye conditions such as macular degeneration - age-related sight loss, and jaundice.
NETPark, which was opened a decade ago, hosts a cluster of innovative firms developing breakthrough technology in areas such as printable electronics, high tech scanners and wonder material graphene.
Entrepreneur Mr Kirk, who set up the business with CPI in 2009, said that his business had now outgrown its current base and it planned to open a purpose-built facility on NETPark in early 2016 to manufacture the products developed by his research and development teams.
He expects to recruit about 10 more highly skilled staff in the coming year as the firm ramps up its groundbreaking work.