David Walsh knew there had to be a better way.
After watching his grandmother, who suffers from age-related macular degeneration, undergo painful treatments that neither she nor her doctor knew to be effective, Walsh, a graduate student at Northeastern University, took matters into his own hands and developed a device that could change the way patients like his grandmother go through diagnosis.
“It’s a medical device that measures disease biomarkers [called VEGF] within the fluid in your eye,” Walsh explains. “From less than a droplet of fluid from the eye, we can do an analysis to determine if treatments are effective in preventing blood vessel growth within your eye [the main characteristic of eye disorders like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy].”
The current treatment process for people with age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy—which, together, are the leading cause of blindness in the Western world—involves injecting a drug directly into the eye every four to six weeks. The process is painful and expensive, but perhaps worst of all is the uncertainty associated with it. “[The doctors] don’t really know what kind of dosing people need, and there’s no real way to tell if the drug is working other than looking at it after quite a few months,” Walsh says. “There’s also a lot of patients that don’t really respond to the drug as well.”
That’s why Walsh created his device, which was developed with the help of a grant awarded to Shashi Murthy, Walsh’s advisor at Northeastern.