South African medical innovation company Liqid Medical has designed a new eye implant called OptiShunt that uses a simple concept to revolutionize the treatment of glaucoma.
The development of the OptiShunt was funded and supported by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Health Unit – an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
The TIA Health Unit aims to accelerate the development of innovation technologies and the commercialization of health products and services in South Africa in order to increase access to health care, reduce health care costs, enable local manufacturing and reduce imports, while developing skills in health innovation.
The OptiShunt was conceptualized by ophthalmologist and CEO of Liqid Medical, Dr. Demon McClunan after observing the problems caused by glaucoma in patients in rural areas of the Northern Cape.
Traditional glaucoma devices drain excess fluid from the eye by creating a fluid-filled blister on the surface of the eye, called a bulla. Bullae are uncomfortable, associated with a high risk of complications and failure, and require lifelong monitoring and management by patients and physicians.
This makes traditional glaucoma surgery one of the least cost-effective and most impactful ophthalmic procedures on quality of life.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss worldwide. In South Africa, vision loss is one of the leading causes of disability and accounts for 32% of all disabilities. Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of fluid pressure in the eye, leading to irreversible damage to the optic nerve.
The OptiShunt uses a unique mechanism that creates a self-regulating system, which in turn provides highly effective pressure control while avoiding the complications and costs associated with traditional devices.
It is designed to limit the formation of unsightly bubbles and the complications that could arise.
Vision loss often leads to unemployment and loss of income, leading to higher levels of hunger and ultimately lower standards of living. About 97% of visually impaired people are unemployed, 90% of whom come from rural communities. South African women are 40% more likely to be visually impaired than men.
The OptiShunt implant allows access to quality care for vulnerable population groups, in particular those in the public health area. This part of the population has been excluded from the use of traditional glaucoma treatment devices due to high costs.
Tests conducted have shown that the OptiShunt is 50% more effective than the current gold standard in treating glaucoma, the TIA said.
“Blindness has a disastrous personal, social and economic impact, especially among those at the bottom of the pyramid. TIA’s goal is to identify and support innovations that have the potential to address societal challenges. The success of OptiShunt would provide access to quality health care at a reduced cost with much better clinical outcomes,” said TIA’s Chief Health Officer Osmond Muroyiwa April 12.
Using the OptiShunt halts the progression of blindness and provides patients with the opportunity for a better life and the ability to contribute to the betterment of their families and communities.
Additionally, the OptiShunt will be manufactured locally and therefore offers the potential to create jobs, reduce imports and enable exports.
The next step in technology development is to conduct regulatory clinical trials. The company is already in the process of obtaining the necessary quality management systems, regulatory approvals and ultimately certification such as CE marking – the mandatory conformity marking of the European Union – and approval by the World Health Organization.
“By leveraging local resources and industry partners such as the TIA, Liqid Medical [has] Reached major first-in-man clinical trial milestones 40% faster and 90% more cost-effectively than our European and US counterparts.
“In South Africa, we have the unique opportunity to combine the innovation dynamics of a resource-constrained environment with the breakthrough capabilities of highly skilled professionals and cutting-edge technology,” said McClunan.