Currently, most eye disease detection equipment is only available in an optometrist’s office. A new handheld optical device could allow general practitioners to quickly screen all patients for eye disease such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. These visually devastating diseases are most easily treated or controlled in their early stages. The new high-speed prototypes were developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The idea of a handheld, easy-to-use scanner is not new. However, the new device combines ultrahigh-speed 3-D imaging with a small microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) mirror for scanning. It also corrects for movement by the patient. The device is designed to take only one measurement but collect comprehensive eye information.
A convenient device like this solves many problems.
- Visits to the eye doctor are often seen as an “extra frill” by patients, who delay or avoid the eye doctor. On the other hand, far more patients see their general practitioner (GP) more frequently.
- The eye doctor represents additional costs. Eye doctor visits may not be fully covered by insurance or covered at all. Visits to the doctor may be.
- People in third world countries would gain crucial access to eye disease screening tools. Presently, many populations are medically under-served and desperate for low-cost, easy-to-use medicine.
- The scan is quick and takes less time than an eye exam at the optometrist’s office. Pupil dilation is not usually required for this device; an eye doctor often requires the inconvenience of dilation.
The device is currently in prototype and therefore expensive. However, its inventors and the medical community are seeking ways to lower costs and put the device in mass production.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) was first developed in the 1990s by MIT and others. OCT beams harmless infrared light into the eye and also on the retina at the back of the eye. The light echoes back to the device. Similar to radar and ultrasound, the device shows the cross-sectional tissue structure of the retina. This helps doctors quickly identify an abnormalities in the eyes.
Similar but larger OCT devices are frequently used by ophthalmologists today; handheld versions are used for newborns and eye surgery. However, the devices needed to be even smaller and more self-sufficient. The MIT team used a MEMS mirror to scan the OCT imaging beam. This resulted in the same quality image as the larger OCT units.
The handheld device needed stabilizing to produce a reliable image. The new device takes many three-dimensional images at high speed. In this way, they can compensate for a shaky hand as well as unintentional movement by the patient.
Editor’s Note: The best offense is a good defense. Taking care of your vision through proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, as well as targeted nutrition, can stop eye disease before it starts. Get your vision checked regularly and browse our website for good vision tips.
Source: Journal Biomedical Optics Express, published by The Optical Society (OSA).