Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) afflicts > 40% of the >60 population. > 70% of US visually impaired population is > 60; within this, ARMD is the largest cause of impairment. A primary feature of ARMD is inability to adapt between light/dark (L/D), leading to loss in functional vision indoors/ outdoors. There is currently no proven, practical, noninvasive-medical or surgical treatment for ARMD applicable to all patients. Current highly inadequate remedies: (1) Multiple layers of sunglasses put on/taken off rapidly between L/D. (2) V. slow-switching photochromics (need UV light for activation, incomplete switching 25-30 s, complete 3-5 min., don't work inside cars/indoors). (3) Expensive anti-angiogenic drugs, low-vision aids, photodynamic therapy (v. limited relief). (4) Surgery, mostly for end-stage ARMD, e.g.: telescope implant (only partial vision); laser photo-coagulation (only for non-sub-foveal ARMD); submacular, subretinal surgery (limited success). A solution would greatly improve the quality of life/well-being of the 40% of age >60 adults afflicted with ARMD, as well as persons with other, age-related diseases, e.g. diabetic retinopathy, corneal dystrophy, retinitis pigmentosa, Wagner syndrome, retinoschesis. In earlier work, our group extensively studied age >60 ARMD veterans at Atlanta VA Center, showing they could benefit highly from fast-darkening (< 5 s) electrochromic (EC) glasses based on liquid crystals (LCs), vs. multiple sunglasses/-photochromics; LC glasses however had serious drawbacks. In present Phase I, a breakthrough EC technology based on Conducting Polymers (CPs) was demonstrated with: (1) perfectly matched, complimentarily coloring CPs, yielding typical L/D contrast 70%/10% (380-760 nm, industry-standard algorithm). (2) Inexpensive (< $3) Controller with algorithm yielding switching times > 5X faster than with conventional voltage control (L->D 2 to 4 s, D->L 1 s); fully automated, photosensor control. (3) V. thin, flexible, durable. (4) Cyclability > 10^5 cycles. (5) Excellent optical memory. (6) V. low power (15 uW/cm2, +/- 3.0 VDC). (7) Est. < $27/pair. (8) High current potentiostat developed, (< $200/unit), dramatically reducing manufacture cost. Proposed work will: (1) Complete final tech refinement (mainly lower-resistivity, thinner ITO substrates to dramatically enhance switching time and L/D contrast). (2) Fabricate prototypes of 3 distinct product designs. (3) Optimize by testing on ARMD patients at Atlanta VA Center (75 subjects age > 55, ARMD + other age-related eye diseases). (4) Further miniaturize, manufacture Controller, battery. (5) Complete initial producn. optimizn. studies. (6) Initial pilot plant, 100-glasses-pairs/month. (7) Scale up: 1000 to 10,000 glasses/month, resolve automation issues, est. product costs. (8) Establish relationships with selected contract manufacturers, marketing tie-ups. A successful Phase II will also yield electrochromics that could replace entire photochromics market, thus dramatically lowering costs for ARMD sunglasses. Joint effort with Atlanta VA Rehab R&D Ctr. for Aging Vision Loss, two industrial automation firms, several eyewear distributors.
The product proposed will finally provide a practical, noninvasive, non-surgical remedy for persons with ARMD, who are up to 40% of the aging population and for whom there is currently no practical, nonsurgical, noninvasive solution, while also assisting persons with other, age-related ocular diseases, e.g. diabetic retinopathy and corneal dystrophy, and other eye diseases, e.g. retinitis pigmentosa, Wagner syndrome and retinoschesis. Other potential applications of such unique, high-performance CP-based electrochromics include the following much larger markets that would also drastically lower costs for persons with ARMD: industrial safety; sunglasses (especially as replacements for photochromics, which are ca. 15% of the total sunglasses market, i.e. 15% of ca. $10 b/year); recreational eyewear (e.g. ski, sports); and automobile windshield and building windows markets. Specific commercial partners have been identified for joint production and marketing and a manufacturing plan formulated.