A Better Way

AesculaTech, a USC Viterbi startup, aims to make it easier for glaucoma patients to take eye drops – and keep their sight.

A few years back, ophthalmologists diagnosed Niki Bayat’s father with glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease and a leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide.

Bayat, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, watched helplessly as her father failed to take his eye drops three times daily as prescribed.

Bayat, whose research includes developing biomaterials to treat eye trauma, thought there had to be another way.

So she and Andrew Bartynski, Ph.D. CE ’16, co-founded AesculaTech, an award-winning biomedical device company spun out of the research labs of Mark Thompson – Bayat’s doctoral advise and an expert in new materials for optoelectronics – and USC’s Dr. Mark Humayun, the developer of an artificial retina that restores sight to some blind people.

AesculaTech has developed an application for the timed release of glaucoma medication, reducing medical complications due to noncompliance or incorrect application.

Ophthalmologists would inject AesculaGel, a thermally responsive hydrogel, into the tear ducts. There, the gel would harden and regularly release medicine. At the end of three months, doctors would give another injection.

“If people cannot get the medication they need for glaucoma, they will start going blind,” said Bayat, adding that an estimated 120,000 Americans lose their sight annually to the disease. “We want to help prevent that.”