UA researchers are hoping a new tool will help glaucoma patients take their care into their own hands.
Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds in the eye, either because the eye produces too much fluid or is unable to drain adequately, said Jill Brickman, director of the Student Sight Savers Glaucoma Screening Program at the University of Arizona Medical Center's Department of Ophthalmology.
Glaucoma patients now must go to a doctor every time they want to check their inner eye pressure.
Eniko Enikov, a UA associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, and a team of researchers are working on a handheld device that patients would be able to take home and use themselves.
Their current model is shaped like a marker or a pen that patients press on a closed eye and roll on top of the eyelid.
The project began in 2006 when Gholam Peyman, a UA clinical professor, approached Enikov about it.
Five years later they are perfecting the design and were awarded a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps grant.
The 21 projects selected for the grants are the inaugural class in a program that tests previously funded projects to see if they are ready to be commercialized.
"Our first round of awards emerged from a wide array of fields and strong fundamental research efforts," said NSF Innovation Corps program officer Errol Arkilic.
The grant requires researchers to pair with experienced entrepreneurs, to increase the possibility of commercialization.
"The idea behind the grant is to take the product from lab to the commercial market," said Emre Toker, UA entrepreneurship mentor in residence, who works with Enikov and his team.
By teaching researchers more about commercialization, NSF officials hope to turn money spent on research into commercial dollars, Toker said.
Enikov hopes to have the glaucoma product ready for commercialization by the end of this year or January 2012.
"The venture capital is in Silicon Valley, and they're looking at all 21 projects to identify which could be funded by whom," said Enikov.
Researchers are more focused on making sure the invention works, so they don't think so much about the users or the customers, Enikov said.
While Silicon Valley has more venture capital, Toker hopes that creating a startup company in Tucson will be a possibility.
"I'm hesitant to say definitively that we'll be successful," Toker said. "This grant will improve the chances of it being successful, but for startups the probability of success is low; success is the exception."
"Realistically the biggest, and the longest, activity is getting FDA approval," said Toker, who believes a device of this type would take approximately one year to get that approval.
"We're giving it our best shot, for sure."
BY THE NUMBERS
• 4.5 percent of Arizonans have glaucoma, according to 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Glaucoma is most common in people 60 or older.
Michelle A. Monroe is a University of Arizona journalism student and a NASA Space Grant intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org