An Indiana University (IU) School of Optometry faculty member’s company is building a diagnostic camera that could help save the vision of millions of people worldwide.
Dr Ann Elsner, director of IU’s Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research, believes that screening to prevent one of the most devastating aspects of diabetes – vision loss and blindness from diabetic retinopathy – could be expanded to millions of underserved people if there was a more affordable diagnostic camera available.
Elsner and her team of researchers now say that they are in the final stages of developing such a system. ‘Right now we have a bench-top prototype and we are serious about spinning it out,’ Elsner said.
One of the challenges facing the team has been how to lower the cost of a small precision motor that scans light across the eye to make the image obtained much sharper. Bringing this cost in line with the other components is one of the final pieces in perfecting the patented laser scanning digital camera, which has been licensed to Elsner’s start-up company, Aeon Imaging.
Making an affordable precision motor remained a challenge, at least until early in March, when the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Initiative said that it would provide a $75,000 (£53,000) grant towards the development of the motor through a collaboration with Purdue University mechanical engineer Henry Zhang.
The camera uses near-infrared light, high-contrast laser scanning and inexpensive sensors to obtain a high-contrast, black-and-white image of the optic nerve head, which is the gateway for blood vessels into the eye. Veins and arteries carry blood and oxygen to different regions of the retina and diabetic retinopathy can cause hemorrhaging that allows blood to leak onto the retina and cause blind spots.
Early detection allows for peripheral, less damaging blind spots to be treated prior to more damaging impairment of the macula, where central vision is based. The device also images the macula and the smaller blood vessels that nourish it.
In addition to developing a tool that will cost about one fourth the cost of its current counterparts and also improve diagnostics, another benefit is that dilation of pupils in patients would no longer be required because infrared light, which does not affect the light-sensitive pupil, is used during the scanning process.
IU optical engineer Matt Muller, foreground, senior scientist Benno Petrig and Dr Ann Elsner, director of IU School of Optometry’s Borish Center for Opthalmic Research, with the prototype laser scanning digital camera that they believe will help save the vision of diabetes sufferers