Brad Katz, MD, PhD, (l) neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist at John A. Moran Eye Center and Kathleen Digre, MD, neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist at John A. Moran Eye Center.

SALT LAKE CITY—People who experience migraines have a new option for managing light sensitivity thanks to lens technology developed by a physician-scientist at the University of Utah John A. Moran Eye Center. "Whether it’s yourself, a friend, or a family member, we all know someone who has sought out a dark room to try to deal with the symptoms of migraine,” said Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Bradley J. Katz, MD, PhD. “I have seen these patients in my practice over the past 29 years, and as a researcher, I have worked to understand light sensitivity to develop therapies that can help improve their quality of life.”

Migraine headaches are a leading cause of disability, impacting around 47 million working-age Americans each year, with women four times as likely to have them than men. Debilitating attacks triggered and exacerbated by light sensitivity can derail career and family life with pain, nausea and depression, according to an announcement from the John A. Moran Eye Center.

Dr. Katz said approximately 80 percent of patients with migraine report light sensitivity during attacks and 49 percent report that following the headache, light sensitivity is the most bothersome symptom.

He added that not all wavelengths of light cause the problem—research shows that light-sensitive cells in the eye, known as intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, are most activated by specific wavelengths of light at the blue-green end of the visible spectrum and at the red-orange end of the spectrum, whereas green wavelengths in the middle of the spectrum are the most comfortable.

FL-41 tinted lenses have been on the market for years and partially filter problematic wavelengths. While FL-41 lenses predominantly filter blue light, Katz pointed out they do not filter the red-orange wavelengths that are important for reducing light sensitivity, and wearers see the world through a rose-colored hue.

Dr. Katz has spent a decade collaborating with colleagues and industry to develop a next-generation technology, Avulux Migraine and Light Sensitivity Lenses. He said the lightly tinted lenses block higher percentages of the problematic wavelengths of light while transmitting the more comfortable wavelengths, allowing wearers to view colors normally.

He anticipates up to 80 percent of migraine patients will find Avulux eyeglasses reduce not only their light sensitivity but also the severity of their headache symptoms. The lenses are the first to have been tested in a clinical trial and received FDA confirmation of classification to be marketed as general wellness tools, which may, as part of a healthy lifestyle, help people living with migraine.

“I recommend lenses with filters to my patients,” said Moran Eye Center neuro-ophthalmologist and scientist Kathleen Digre, MD, former president of the American Headache Society and a colleague of Katz's who has co-authored research with him. “They have no side effects, and many find they prevent some headaches. Our patients can try both FL-41 and Avulux in our clinics.”

University of Utah professor of electrical and computer engineering Steve Blair, PhD, designed the light filtering characteristics of the lenses and developed the prototypes of Avulux. The University of Utah’s technology licensing office helped Blair and Dr. Katz patent and commercialize the new lenses, and both hold equity interest in Avulux. The eyeglasses are available online and through select retailers with or without a prescription, and will also be available at Moran Eye Center optical shops in July.

“I have worked to develop non-pharmaceutical approaches to the treatment of migraine as I have increasingly encountered patients who are looking for treatments that do not involve prescription medications or procedures,” Dr. Katz said. “I hope this provides another useful tool for people living with migraine.”

The Avulux team welcomes the addition of their technology to Moran Eye Center. Avulux president and CEO Dr. Charles Posternack said the news that Avulux Migraine and Light Sensitivity lenses will be available at Moran Eye Center optical shops is exciting because it provides yet another channel through which people can access Avulux. He noted that Avulux is now available through more than 200 eyecare providers across the United States.

“As this network continues to grow, Avulux lenses have already made a positive impact on nearly 15,000 individuals experiencing migraine and light sensitivity,” Dr. Posternack said. With more than 80 percent of people with migraine experience light sensitivity, Avulux offers a comfortable lens that absorbs harmful blue, red and amber light waves, while letting in soothing green light. Dr. Posternack said the lens does not distort color perception, and is manufactured accurately and consistently.

“Blue light glasses, sunglasses and dark-colored tints, clear lenses and FL-41 lenses all have their limitations, whereas Avulux is the only lens that has proven clinical and statistical significance, at the highest scientific standard, in helping people with light sensitivity and migraine.” He added that Avulux Migraine and Light Sensitivity lenses were built on science, and the collaboration with the John A. Moran Eye Center is critical to ensuring the lenses are evidence-based and clinically proven.

Dr. Posternack said the Avulux lens officially launched in 2018, after a long path of clinical research and development, led by Dr. Katz together with colleagues and industry partners. He added that academia helped define the scientific pathway for the biologic basis of migraine, while industry R&D partners developed the complex lens technology that allowed this biologic roadmap to be followed. “It is important for researchers, academia and industry to continue to work together to advance our understanding and ability to address conditions such as light sensitivity and migraine.”