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Eye rehabilitation from Sight Science

Friday 12th February 2010
Blind areas before and after rehabilitation. Black rectangles indicate blind areas within the patient’s field of vision. Courtesy: Sight Science Ltd

Partial sight loss, a debilitating side effect of stroke and brain injury affects 55,000 people across Europe each year. Now the University of Aberdeen has launched a new spin out company Sight Science Ltd to offer Neuro-Eye Therapy (NeET) - likened to physiotherapy for the eyes - to patients across Europe.

Sight Science is also hopeful that NeET could eventually become available on the NHS.
 
Dr Ann Lewendon  from the University of Aberdeen’s research and commercialisation arm and a director of Sight Science, said: “Following the enthusiastic responses from clinicians and major successes in patients who have used the therapy, Sight Science has been established to provide immediate access to those who can benefit from the therapy.

NeET is delivered via a home based interactive laptop package. Patients have to respond to patterns shown on screen which stimulate areas of the patient’s brain that have been injured causing sight loss.

Following therapy, patients have reported significant improvements in their sight which has given them increased navigational skills, helping them to carry out everyday activities such as crossing the road, as well as a better concentration span.

Professor Arash Sahraie, (left) Professor of Vision Sciences at the University of Aberdeen and founder of Sight Science, said: "Within the past decade, the concept of brain plasticity – when the brain can adapt to and compensate for its circumstance – has become well established.
 
“We now know that if we encourage a change in the brain, then changes are likely to take place and if no intervention occurs, no improvements are expected. The basis of the Neuro-Eye Therapy is similar to the approach currently taken in rehabilitating movement and speech disorders after stroke.
 
“Patients using our interactive computer programme are presented repeatedly and systematically with visual patterns specifically designed to encourage plasticity within the injured brain.

“Patients have reported an improvement in their sight as well as a range of other benefits, including being able to get about more easily, both inside and outside their homes, and finding reading much less of a struggle.”

Sight Science patients are given a laptop and chin rest and are required to complete the computer based exercise – which takes around 30 minutes - once or twice daily over six months. While it is not possible to guarantee improvements in all cases, researchers say the majority of those who have used the therapy have found it so successful that they have extended its use.

Two success stories
John Henderson, an 81 year old Aberdonian suffered a stroke three years ago, affecting his left leg and and almost totally blinding his left eye. After five months in rehabilitation he regained the use of his limbs. Hearing of the therapy and adjudged a suitable candidate for treatment he began to follow it for a year.

He (right)  said: “Bar maybe three days, every day that year I would spend around 40 to 45 minutes on the laptop. It was at the end of the nine month period I could say there was a definite improvement in my sight. I still can’t see lower down in my left hand peripheral vision so I have to take care with kerbs or obstacles like low tables.
 
“But the improvement to my sight has made a difference to the quality of my life. Prior to the therapy there is no way I could have gone back to my bowling as I wouldn’t have had the confidence, but now I am back bowling with other partially sighted and blind bowlers.
 
“I have also gone to walking up to half a mile to visit a friend [and] am able to cross the road... I would not have dared to do that before.”
 
Retired pharmacologist Dr Adrian Peel suffered a stroke – the only side effect being partial sight loss when he was at his computer and something went wrong with his vision when the right hand side of the screen “disappeared”.
 
Struggling to read, unable to drive and finding walking on pavements or crossing the road tricky because his vision made it difficult to judge the traffic. He was given a white cane.
 
Two months after his stroke, Dr Peel’s eyes “steadied." Able to surf the web for possible treatments he came across the University of Aberdeen therapy.
“It was very easy, completely painless, but become the most  boring half hour of the day, “he said. “Although I was told that there was no guarantee that my eyesight would improve, within the space of around three months I got virtually all my sight back apart from a fuzzy patch in the upper right of my vision.
 
“I have steadily resumed my usual activities in all aspects of my life. I also got my driving licence back after a DVLA approved optician pronounced that my eyesight was now of a standard sufficient to resume driving.”

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