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Ophthalmic device could revolutionise eye care in the developing world

Low cost eye-scanning device developed at City University London could transform the detection of eye diseases
by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

An academic from City University London has been awarded the Royal Society's prestigious Brian Mercer Award for Innovation and Feasibility for a low cost eye-scanning device which could revolutionise eye care and the detection of eye diseases in the developing world. The £30,000 prize will help with the commercialisation of the device.

The award will be formally presented at the Royal Society's annual 'Labs to Riches' dinner on 11 February 2015. Bringing together leaders in academia, industry and government to discuss the importance of research and development to the UK economy, the event also celebrates the achievements of some of the UK's leading innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Talking about the project, Dr Stephen Gruppetta, a lecturer from the Centre for Applied Vision Research at City University London who developed the device, said: "The motivation behind this project is to fill the technology gap in retinal imaging that exists between inexpensive basic ophthalmoscopes and high-end expensive devices. Due to our device's low cost and high accuracy, we hope it will make a significant difference to the detection of eye diseases worldwide."

Sight loss is often preventable if the eye disease responsible is detected at an early stage. However initially diseases can have little or no noticeable effect on vision and patients only report symptoms when the disease has advanced to the stage that irreversible sight loss has already occurred. As a result images obtained of the retina must be of sufficiently high quality to enable abnormal changes to be identified.

Originally developed as part of a proof of concept study funded by EPSRC that finished in 2014, the device - known as a Structured Illumination Ophthalmoscope- can obtain a three-dimensional image of the retina at the back of the eye using a simple and inexpensive optical set up. It uses widely available standard light sources and detectors, and does not require certain arrangements - known as lateral scanning mechanisms - which make other technologies complex and expensive without affecting the accuracy of the device. 

"Unlike other existing 3D retinal imaging techniques, the method we pioneered makes a simple and low-cost device possible using techniques originally developed in microscopy. We hope that the device will help detect eye disease in a timely fashion in both developed and especially in developing countries," said Dr Gruppetta.

Since the EPSRC project, the technique has been patented and a spin-off company, Structured Eye Limited, has been set up from the same project with investment from the Chariot Partnership.

Speaking about the spin-out, Dr Gruppetta said: "Having successfully completed the original EPSRC proof-of-concept we have now set up a company with the plan of translating the laboratory device into a boxed prototype that could be tested both in the UK and also in India. Using the Royal Society prize we then hope to try to commercialise this device."

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.