On February 13, 2014, GlassesOff Inc. (OTCQB:GLSO) announced publication of a new study in Nature's Scientific Reports. The paper is titled, "Uncovering Fovea Crowding?" and is authored by Maria Lev, Oren Yehezkel, and Uri Polat of the Goldschleger Eye Research Institute, the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Hashomer, Israel. Professor Uri Polat is GlassesOff Inc.'s chief scientific officer and the study was conducted using GlassesOff technology and funded in part by the company. Results provided new evidence of the correlation between the small part of the retina providing sharp vision, known as the fovea, crowding, and the brain's processing speed.
A Little Science & Background On The Study
The fovea is a part of the eye located in the center of the macula region of the retina. The fovea is responsible for sharp central vision (also called foveal vision), which is necessary in humans for reading, driving, and any activity where visual detail is of primary importance. Fovea size is very small compared to the rest of retina, amounting to only 1% by area, but it is the only area of the retina where 20/20 vision is attainable due to the uniquely high density photoreceptor cells in this area. These photoreceptor cells capture light and transform it into electric signals that are sent to the brain. Research shows that as much as 50% of the brain's imaging processing efforts are concentrated on the fovea, making this tiny region extremely important for seeing fine detail and color.
Visual crowding is a vision phenomenon resulting in the inability to recognize objects in clutter. For example, recognizing a single letter "E" on a blank page is rather easy for the human visual system to quickly and accurately process; however, recognizing a single letter "E" embedded with a word on a full page of text is more challenging, and takes time and effort. Thus, crowding sets a fundamental limit on visual perception and object recognition.
The extent of crowding in the peripheral vision has been well studied, and is most evident in people with strabismic amblyopia. It was previously demonstrated that spatial and temporal crowding are correlated in the fovea of amblyopic patients, and during visual training exercises in participants with presbyopia. The effects of crowding may result either from lower near visual acuity, as predicted by Flom et al., (1963), or from deterioration of the processing speed with age.
However, crowding in the fovea is less well understood in healthy, young individuals. The goal of the study conducted by GlassesOff scientists was to explore the effect of crowded conditions in the fovea of young people with normal vision and in people with presbyopia using the contour interaction paradigm. The company hypothesized that limited processing times may reveal the effect of contour interactions at the fovea. To explore this, 178 participants, 40 normal young individuals (average age of approximately 25) and 138 older individuals (average age of approximately 50) experiencing presbyopia were studied with techniques similar to those used in previous GlassesOff studies that helped design the company's current GlassesOff application.
But before we get into the results of the study and the conclusions published in the paper, investors should get familiar with the GlassesOff story. The company is pioneering a novel software approach to enhancing vision using state of the art perceptual learning methods adapted to a convenient mobile application platform.
Perceptual Learning & The GlassesOff Application
Perceptual learning is the process of increasing one's effectiveness in converting sensory input into useful information. Through perceptual learning techniques, much of the improvement takes place in sensory brain regions via strengthening of connections between neuronal elements that receive information from the sensory organs (e.g., the eyes). It is suggested that continuous training on tasks involving fine pattern discrimination and detection of fine visual stimuli improves the information processing within sensory brain areas and the interaction between these areas and higher brain regions interpreting the incoming information.
Human vision is limited by the quality of the image that is transferred from the eye to the brain, and by the quality of processing of that image within the visual cortex of the brain. Visual disorders may arise from defects within the eyes or in the processing of the signal within the brain. Perceptual learning offers the opportunity to mitigate these deficits, irrespective of their cause, as well as providing the opportunity for performance enhancement in those with normal vision.
The approach taken by GlassesOff scientists to address vision enhancement relies heavily on the company's identification of processing speed and visual contrast sensitivity (the ability to distinguish various shades of gray) as two of the main determinants of how well people see. Importantly, contrast sensitivity and processing speed have been shown to be some of the most important contributors to visual acuity (Polat, 2009). Visual acuity is commonly measured as the ability to identify black symbols on a white background at a standard distance as the size of the symbols is varied, and is an important determinant of visual skills such as the ability to read fine print.
On November 18, 2013 GlassesOff scientists presented data at the American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting describing the persistence over time of the vision benefits of the GlassesOff reading app. The conclusion from this presentation was that the GlassesOff app not only helped subjects in this small study improve visual acuity, with gains persisting for over 6 years, but it also turned back the clock by 6.1 to 8.5 years in terms of effective eye age.
Overall, these results show that the previously demonstrated improvements in reaction time and contrast sensitivity obtained with the GlassesOff app for age-related close-up vision loss are persistent over a period of years. These improvements provide greater close-up visual acuity, restoring the ability to read normal size font without eyeglasses for many with age-related close-up vision loss.
…Targeting Patients With Early-Stage Presbyopia…
We see the current GlassesOff application as a potential game-changing shift in treatment of age-related decline in near vision (Presbyopia). Most adults experience a decline in close-up vision that first becomes noticeable in the mid-thirties to late forties. Common symptoms include difficulty reading small print, especially under conditions of low lighting, as well as eye strain and headaches. Many people with early symptoms of presbyopia will attempt to compensate for their inability to focus on close objects by holding books and other reading materials at arm's-length, but the greater focus achieved at this distance is offset by the difficulty of reading small type from a distance.
Below is a graph showing the rising incidence of presbyopia with age from a study in northern Brazil, which has a climate similar to that of industrialized countries of North America and Western Europe. Based on these prevalence rates and U.S. Census data, the estimated prevalence of presbyopia in the U.S. is about 93 million persons.
Given the enormous market represented by patients with presbyopia, we see the current GlassesOff application as a very attractive business opportunity. This first generation of the application is designed to help patients improve visual acuity for tasks involving "static visual material," such as in reading or writing. What seems clear, however, is that GlassesOff is already thinking about a second-generation application, and results from the foveal crowding study published in Nature's Scientific Reports gives a glimpse into what this new second generation application might look like.
Targeting Foveal Vision & Dynamic Learning Applications
The paper published by Maria Lev, Oren Yehezkel, and Uri Polat demonstrates, for the first time that a robust effect of performance reduction (contour interactions) under crowded conditions exist in the fovea. Below we present the primary findings with respect to contour interaction as it relates to accuracy (identifying a letter correctly) and reaction time according to changing presentation time (in milliseconds). Results show a clear difference in outcome between crowded and uncrowded conditions.
Results also show that the separation between crowded and uncrowded conditions becomes less significant as presentation time increases. These results support the hypothesis of a dual processing mechanism, where early detection precedes target identification. In the simplest terms, the study supports the belief that, "first you see something, but your brain continues to processes the image before you eventually identify what you see." The early detection stage may be as quick as 100 milliseconds in the normal "healthy" eye.
This information, coupled with the concepts of visual crowding and masking, supports that classical spatial crowding behaves differently under changing temporal conditions when the time allowed for processing is short. This may be the case under dynamic visual conditions, such as driving or during sporting activities. The authors conclude that there may be a tradeoff between the time of stimulus availability, which enables longer processing times, and improvement in spatial processing. Such a tradeoff of time for better performance is known in visual searching. The results held consistent for both young individuals and older individuals with presbyopia.
The concept of, "first you see something, but your brain continues to processes the image before you eventually identify what you see" changes as the target moves or even disappears. Although early detection may not differ significantly from static to dynamic stimuli, target identification may vary greatly.
Can GlassesOff Get You Into The Hall Of Fame or Help You Avoid A Crash?
As noted above, the current first generation GlassesOff application is designed to help improve visual acuity for visual tasks involving "static visual material," such as reading or writing fine print. Next generation releases or products may focus on "dynamic applications" where early detection and target identification play a more important role in the goal of the perceptive learning exercise. Specifically, we see the following real-world applications to what GlassesOff scientists have published with respect to improving visual accuracy and reaction time.
- Motor vehicle: How many times have you been driving in your car and someone in another lane in front of you swerves into your lane, cutting you off? Or worse, you are driving down a neighborhood street and a dog, or a small child runs out into the middle of the road ahead of you. Reaction time is incredibly important for avoiding accidents while driving a vehicle. Being able to avoid danger while driving starts with the ability to quickly and accurately process what you see in a dynamic environment.
- Athletics: We see several sports where athletes might benefit from having improved visual accuracy and reaction time. It takes only 0.45 seconds for a 90 mph fastball to reach home plate after it leaves the pitcher's hand. A batter has roughly 0.15 seconds to react to the pitch before they make a decision on if, where, and when to swing at the ball. Batters judge the ball's location by picking up rotation on the stripes. For instance, the ball has different rotation if the pitcher throws a fastball, curve ball, or slider. A batter with reaction time improved by perceptual learning techniques specifically designed to increase target detection and identification may be able to increase their batting average from 0.255 (MLB average for 2013) to 0.301 (95th percentile), or even 0.349 (0.001 better than Miguel Cabrera, 2013 MLB batting average leader).
Beyond baseball, a similar concept can be applied to a hockey or soccer goalie, or returning a serve in tennis, racquetball, or ping pong, or knowing where and when to jump for a basketball rebound, or attacking or defending in fencing. In addition, getting a professional athlete to endorse a GlassesOff application would provide a tremendous marketing opportunity and likely introduce the company to a sizable population of potential customers who may not already be familiar with the company's GlassesOff application.
- Military: Potential military applications of improving target detection and identification are obvious. We see potential battlefield applications for snipers defending a position, to air force or navy pilots operating a jet, and to engineers flying an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.
We encourage investors to view the Zacks detailed initiation report on GlassesOff. The current GlassesOff application is focused on reducing or eliminating the need for reading glasses. The App was launched on December 10, 2013, and became the #1 ranked App in the medical category only a week later. In late January 2014, the company expanded the platform with a specific version dedicated to Apple's iPad. Expansion of the distribution platform to include Android devices is expected shortly. We expect the company to provide user metrics with the first quarter 2014 financial results.
What seems clear, however, is that GlassesOff scientists are not sitting idly by satisfied with only releasing this first application. We believe the recent study results published in Nature's Scientific Reports give a glimpse into the future applications that look to build upon the impressive science and perceptual learning techniques already incorporated in the current App, with new applications that greatly expand the market from static reading improvement programs in subjects between the age of 35 and 55, to just about anyone who has ever driven a car, swung a bat, returned a serve, or defended a country.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.