Bristol, UK – 16 June 2017 – Azul Optics’ co-founder and CTO, Dr Shelby Temple, has been named Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Innovator of the Year 2017.
The prestigious award recognises Dr Temple’s work in developing a device that will help identify people who are at increased risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of incurable blindness worldwide in people over 55. This debilitating disease affects more than 600,000 people in the UK alone and is estimated to cost the UK healthcare system £1.6 billion annually.
The innovation arose from BBSRC-funded research carried out at the University of Bristol, which looked at the ability of octopuses, cuttlefish and coral reef fish to see polarised light – an aspect of light that humans aren’t typically aware that they can see. Dr Temple invented a series of unique devices to display polarised light to animals, and in doing so, realised that he could see a pattern as well.
“What I was seeing was an effect known as Haidinger’s brushes,” said Dr Temple, “which is an effect that happens within the eye when people perceive polarised light. A person’s ability to see this phenomenon is linked to an aspect of eye health and can be an early indicator of disease. It became clear that the tools I had developed for fish could become the foundation for a novel ophthalmic device that could rapidly screen people for susceptibility to AMD. If we can catch this early, people can make simple changes, like eating more brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking and wearing protective eyewear, to help reduce the chances of going blind later in life.”
The twelve finalists for the innovator of the year award were named in April, and the winners, who were judged by an independent panel, were presented recently at a celebration held at Canary Wharf, London.
Dr Temple received the award in the Commercial Impact category, and was then announced as the Innovator of the Year 2017.
“It was truly unexpected as there were so many deserving projects,” said Dr Temple. “I was overwhelmed by excitement and pride that all of the hard work, put in by the team at Azul Optics, as well as by my research collaborators, was recognised by the judges.”
This award acknowledges the important impact this device could have on the health and wellbeing of people around the world, not only in helping to prevent people from going blind, but also in relieving the economic and social burden associated with blindness.
“The BBSRC Innovator of the Year competition recognises and rewards BBSRC-funded scientists that have identified and taken an active part in realising the impact from their research,” said Dr Karen Lewis, interim Executive Director, Innovation and Skills, BBSRC. “Dr Temple’s technology has the potential to make a significant difference to people’s lives, the journey that Dr Temple is taking to realise this opportunity from very fundamental research epitomises the spirit of the competition. This was recognised by the Panel in awarding the BBSRC Innovator of the Year to Dr Temple.”
In 2016, Dr Temple received £500,000 in funding from Innovate UK, which launched Azul Optics Ltd, the Bristol-based start-up that is commercialising the device. Azul Optics has since secured an additional £310,000 in private investment.