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Funds Awarded for Astronaut Eye Disorder Technologies

Vision testing of astronauts

Vision testing of astronauts in microgravity (NASA.gov)

9 March 2015. Three companies are each receiving $100,000 in early-stage funds from a challenge seeking technologies to diagnose or correct eye problems in space faced by astronauts. The awards are made by National Space and Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, from its Vision for Mars Challenge.

The Vision for Mars competition, announced in November, sought solutions for vision problems astronauts encounter in long-duration space flights. In post-flight surveys, National Aeronautics and Space Administration found 29 percent of shuttle and and 60 percent of space station astronauts reported declines in distant and near-vision visual clarity. Anecdotal reports from returning astronauts also tell of difficulties in focusing cameras and other tasks requiring close visual inspection.

Among the winning competitors is Annidis Inc. in Grandville, Michigan, that develops devices to diagnose and treat eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. NSBRI highlighted the company’s multi-spectral imaging technology for early detection of disorders of the retina and choriod, the layer connecting the retina and the clera, or white part of the eye. Annidis says its device provides diagnostic images rivaling more complex and invasive methods, and can complement NASA’s current diagnostic tools.

Another challenge winner is Equinox LLC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Equinox develops a device known as balance goggles that the company says can help regulate pressure inside the eye. “We believe that astronauts may be experiencing reverse glaucoma, which means they experience moderate pressure in the brain that pushes outward and onto the eye, causing some of the ocular pathologies,” says Dorit Donoviel, NSBRI’s deputy chief scientist in an institute statement. Balance goggles are expected to apply gentle pressure on the exterior of the eye to stabilize the internal pressure from inside the eye, and can be worn for extended periods making them suitable for long space flights.

The third funding recipient is Web Vision Centers Group in South Jordan, Utah, a business development company specializing mobile app and eye care technologies. Web Vision Centers Group is expected to offer prescription-adjustable glasses that can change their properties through techniques such as a computer plug-in, or magnetized lenses with different properties that can be inserted or removed by the wearers as needed.

The awards were made through the Space Medical and Related Technologies Commercialization Program, or Smartcap, administered by the institute’s industry members. Smartcap offers R&D funding for small companies in the U.S. to develop technologies related to NSBRI’s mission, as well as collaborate with NSBRI and its research partners. Smartcap awards are made three times a year and require matching funds from the recipients. The next deadline for applications is 26 June.

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