On a late summer afternoon, David Simpson picked a small black device off a table, lifted it over his head, fitted it across his eyes, and adjusted the attached straps. A casual onlooker might have assumed he was preparing to fool around with a virtual reality device.
Instead, he was preparing to demonstrate how the headset might help people with impaired vision see the real world more clearly. Simpson, a doctor of optometry with the Low Vision Rehabilitation Service at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center – Anschutz Medical Campus, had donned something called IrisVision low vision aid. The device combines smartphone and app technology to aid people with vision loss.
IrisVision technology is currently the subject of a trial at the Eye Center that compares its usefulness in improving vision and easing everyday activities for young people with low vision to standard magnifying aids, such as high-magnification binoculars and reading glasses.
“Our overall goal is to determine whether IrisVision is more helpful than other devices and if it is something that we want to recommend to our patients,” said Melissa Engle, doctor of optometry with the Department of Ophthalmology with the University of Colorado School of Medicine and principal investigator for the trial. The trial is also evaluating if IrisVision can provide more help with some conditions more than others, Engle said. These include optic neuropathy (damage to the optic nerve) and genetic problems, such as albinism and Stargardt disease, that deteriorate vision.
Connecting smartphone features to IrisVision
Participants ages 15 to 30 who qualify for the trial receive the IrisVision device and can keep it after completing the nine-month course of study. They connect a smartphone to the headset and use an app with adjustable “modes” to help them improve their vision. With the touch of a finger, the wearer makes adjustments through the app to sharpen contrast and brightness, widen their field of vision, change colors for reading (for example, put black letters on a white background or vice versa) and increase magnification.
“The idea is to take advantage of the features of a smartphone and apply that to helping people with low vision,” Simpson said. He emphasized that whatever success IrisVision achieves, it is not a replacement for lower-cost glasses or binoculars.
“There is still a major place for those devices,” he said. “The limitation they have is that the magnification is locked in.”
IrisVision study tests usefulness
The study begins with participants taking a variety of tests to gather baseline measurements of their vision, Engle said. After training on IrisVision, they take the device home, then return at regular intervals for more measurements of their vision with and without it. The measurements include visual acuity with one and both eyes, reading speed, field of view and contrast sensitivity. The researchers compare the results of wearing the IrisVision device to using glasses and contact lenses, high-magnification reading glasses and high-magnification binoculars.
The study also gathers information about how individuals use the IrisVision headset in their daily lives. “We want to know how well patients adapt to the device and will they want to use it,” Engle said.
For example, do they more frequently use modes to improve contrast or to produce a wider field of vision? Do they use the headset for reading, watching TV or other activities? What magnification power seems to provide the most help? If the participants aren’t using a headset mode, such as the one for reading, it will be important to understand why, Engle said. The researchers also use surveys to identify any negative effects patients feel from viewing the world through the device.
The trial, funded by Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Ponzio Family Foundation, has enrolled nine patients, with a final goal of 12, Engle said. Patients have been recruited thus far from Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Low Vision Rehabilitation Service. For more information, contact Melissa Engle at [email protected], [email protected] or 720-777-2020.