A revolutionary Israeli invention to treat “lazy eye” in a user-friendly fashion is gaining international recognition.
Amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” is a neural disorder affecting three to five percent of all children. Until now, the only way to strengthen the weak eye has been to put an eye patch over the stronger eye or blur its vision with eye drops. Needless to say, neither option is a hit with kids or their parents.
Israeli family physician Omry Ben-Ezra wanted to find a better solution. The revolutionary result of his efforts, Amblyz Glasses, was introduced to the market in 2012 by multinational company XPAND 3D and has won a product innovation award from the International 3D Society.
The battery-operated eyeglasses, specially fashioned for children ages 3-10, have an electronic shutter to make one lens intermittently transparent or opaque. This helps the weaker eye to function and develop its muscles and neural connections.
“The need for the product came from observing children walking around with eye patches, which seemed medieval,” says Ben-Ezra. “There had been several attempts at active training, but they necessitate sitting in front of a computer or book. So my idea was to incorporate an electronic patch in the glasses, and then the child is training while living everyday life.”
Trials held at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba showed that by eliminating the discomfort of drops and the social awkwardness of wearing an eye patch, Amblyz achieved better compliance.
The shutter approach is superior from a therapeutic point of view as well. “In amblyopia, children develop monocular vision, and when you patch you are still only allowing one eye to work. With our glasses, the eyes are training to work together,” says Ben-Ezra.
Turkish optical chain ordered 7,000 pairs
“There is great interest in the product,” says Ben-Ezra. “In Turkey, for instance, a chain of optics stores was the first to place an order of 7,000 units.”
Ben-Ezra started working on his project in 2003 and built a very preliminary prototype for the clinical trials, which were reported in the Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
“Then I started to search for a way to build the glasses in an affordable and attractive way, robust enough for children to use,” he says. The Office of the Chief Scientist funded a small startup, OphthoCare, which later received additional support from an Israeli optical chain.
“We were still struggling with technical difficulties and then, lucky for us, in parallel XPAND 3D was working on eyeglasses for cinema. And they had the technical abilities we needed. Their electronic shutters were better than those we could achieve with our modest means — the electronics and batteries are smaller, and the entire mechanism could be enclosed in the frame.”
The multinational XPAND 3D is based in Cyprus, but Chief Strategy Officer Ami Dror happens to be Israeli. “I got a phone call from him through a mutual acquaintance, and the rest is history,” says Ben-Ezra. “We licensed the technology and IP to XPAND. Now we are supporting XPAND in making Amblyz a worldwide success.”
Dror explains that even before hearing about Ben-Ezra’s project from that mutual friend, he had been working to develop medical applications for XPAND 3D entertainment technology, including glasses to treat lazy eye and motion sickness.
“We had the technology ready to go and he had the IP and clinical tests, so it was a perfect match,” says Dror, who formerly served as vice consul in the Israeli consulates in Marseilles and Dublin.
“I like to help Israeli companies when I can, so everything came together. From XPAND’s point of view, developing a product like this without the medical community was challenging. The Israelis gave us that knowhow.”
By: Ministry of Foreign Affairs