A PIONEERING North-East company which has developed an innovative way of preventing blindness in diabetics has been inundated with inquiries from all over the world.

Since the story of the ‘eye-repairing’ sleep masks being developed by PolyPhotonix was first broken by The Northern Echo last month, the County Durham firm has attracted an increasing numbers of interested calls from around the world.

The Government is also very interested in the idea as it could potentially save the NHS £1bn a year.

Developed at the firm’s headquarters at NETPark, in Sedgefield, after £14m worth of Government-backed research, the Noctura 400 sleep mask has been shown to halt the damage caused to patients’ eyes by diabetes and even reverse a serious condition called diabetic retinopathy which can cause blindness.

Richard Kirk, chief executive of PolyPhotonix, said: “Since the story broke we have had people calling us from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Japan and the United States.”

The light-emitting sleep mask, which works by ‘tricking’ the eyes into thinking it is still daytime but allowing the wearer to sleep normally, prevents the normal night-time process which involves the rapid creation of blood vessels in the eyes.

In a healthy eye this is beneficial but in someone with diabetes-related retinopathy this leads to fluid leaks, the growth of cysts and the gradual thickening of eye tissue.

By stopping this process it allows the eyes to gradually recover .

This low-cost treatment is an alternative to an expensive drug called Lucentis, which costs £20,000 per patient, per annum and involved injections into the eyes.

It also replaces laser treatment which cauterises leaking blood vessels but causes irreversible damage.

PolyPhotonix has trialled the sleep mask for 20,000 hours and trials involving more than 600 patients are going on at hospitals across the UK.

On Thursday August 28 PolyPhotonix will host a seminar for 50 prospective patients.

The seminar will be addressed by a patient and a representative from Wades, a North-East chain of opticians working with PolyPhotonix.

Those who sign up will have to pay £250 for a 12 week supply of sleep masks plus optician’s fees.

While Noctura 400 already has a CE mark, which allows it to be used by patients, it is on a fast track towards approval by NICE (National Institute for Health Care and Excellence) which means it could be available on the NHS within the next two years.