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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Reinventing eye surgery

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Like the secret headquarters of any comic book superhero, Dr. Alan Brown’s MindSkid Labs is tucked away behind the façade of this local doctor’s Shipyard Boulevard ophthalmic surgery clinic. A walk though the hallways of the clinic, darkened for the light-sensitive optical procedures performed there, reveals Brown’s space to invent new and technologically advanced tools for ophthalmic surgeries.

Brown, who attained his first patent for an ophthalmic surgery tool in the early 1990s, began inventing at age 7 when he developed a rudimentary wristband to count his pulse. Now Brown and his team at MindSkid Labs, which includes his wife Debbie, are developing new surgical tools like the RoboMarker and Photon Speculum.

The RoboMarker, the first product successfully developed by MindSkid Labs, is now in use at select optometry clinics after a limited first release. Replacing the old method of marking a patient’s cornea for correcting astigmatisms, the RoboMarker is a sleek, pen-sized tool that can self-level at any angle of astigmatism with a disposable marker end.

MindSkid Labs’ next invention, the Photon Speculum, recently won MindSkid Labs an NCBiotech loan for the completion of its development.

During LASIK and other optical surgeries, optometrists numb a patient’s eyelids and hold them open using a metal speculum while shining a light directly into the eye to see during the surgery. With the Photon Speculum, Brown and his team developed a disposable plastic speculum with small Light Emitting Diode lights on its arms that shine sideways into the eye.

“With shining the light on the side we are not cooking the retina with a bright light and the doctor can see things you have never seen as a surgeon because you don’t get the glare you see from a direct light,” Brown said. “Where it is really going to make an impact is on corneal implants and inlays.”

The improved side lighting illuminates the eye in a way that allows surgeons to notice small details that previously could have been drowned out by glare. Such small details include the small tissues that can grow in between the layers peeled back during LASIK surgery.

“The RoboMarker is really cool and doctors love it but the Photon Speculum is the one that, once they use it, they will never do another surgery without it because it is a game changer,” Brown said. “This is the one that will help doctors perform much safer surgeries.”

In addition to the side lighting, the Photon Speculum is also novel in that it is designed to be disposable after one use, a trend occurring with many medical tools because of concerns about bacteria spreading, Brown said.

As an inventor, Brown said Wilmington’s biotech and small business startup atmosphere is rapidly improving with the formation of organizations like the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Wilmington Investors Network.

“Wilmington has something really cool happening with people like Jim Roberts at the entrepreneurship center, who is doing a great job trying to help startups and he is trying to make Wilmington a research hub,” he said. “There is starting to be a little buzz about Wilmington because people are realizing it’s not just the beach and that, Monday through Friday, we actually do think a little.”

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