Halifax entrepreneur hopes to develop contact lens for colour blindness

Gabrielle Masone, 27, wants to help people who are colour blind see the world. But she also has a personal connection to the project.

'Colour is a huge part of the way people see the world,' says Gabrielle Masone

Gabrielle Masone, 27, is in the midst of creating a prototype for a daily contact lens that allows colour blind people to see certain colours. (Diane Paquette/CBC)

A young entrepreneur in Halifax is hoping to develop a contact lens to help people see in colour.

About 10 per cent of Canadian men have colour blindness, which means they have more trouble distinguishing colours — often reds and greens. The rate is lower for women.

Gabrielle Masone, 27, is in the midst of creating a prototype for a daily contact lens that will allow colour blind people to see certain colours.

"People focus on vision as if it's just clarity and focus, but it's colour," said Masone, director of ColourSmith Labs, Inc.

"Colour is a huge part of the way people see the world, interpret emotions, connect with other people. What we really hope to do is bridge that gap that people may have in their lives."

ColourSmith Labs, Inc. is creating daily contact lenses to help correct colour blindness. (ColourSmith Labs/Facebook)

People who are colour blind don't see all colours of the rainbow equally. There are glasses available to correct that, but they're often tinted.

Masone said colour blindness is caused by the way light goes into the eye. Right now, she's looking to treat a specific type called anomalous trichromacy, when the red and green receptors are too close together.

Her lens will have a specialized light filter to separate those colour receptors and allow the person to see in colour.

But along with entrepreneurial reasons, Masone also has a personal connection to the business.

"It's generally something that gets recognized quite early in life, so when you're in elementary school," she said. "I really connected strongly with that because my own vision problems started to present themselves when I was in elementary school as well."

Masone has a condition called amblyopia, when the connection between her eyes and brain aren't as strong as it should be. If it's caught early enough, it can be treated.

"Mine wasn't," she said. "I lost my vision in my right eye."

Masone, who is originally from Detroit, came to Halifax to study chemistry at Dalhousie University.

"If I had a passion for computers, I probably would have come up with an app," she said. "But as my background is in chemistry, and I love chemistry, when I saw this problem I came at it from a chemistry solution."

Right now the project is being funding through innovation competitions and private investments. Masone hopes to have the first prototype done by fall.

"I couldn't be more thrilled with Halifax's support," she said.

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from CBC's Diane Paquette and Mainstreet Halifax