Lens-free ophthalmoscope could transform critical disease diagnosis

08 Oct 2003 2min read

Team Consulting

Company update

A simple, lightweight, low-cost ophthalmoscope, which has significant implications for medical training and disease diagnosis, has been developed and prototyped by two UK companies.

Examining the retina at the back of the eye can be very revealing. Serious diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes, high blood pressure, brain tumours and cerebral malaria can be diagnosed, or their possibility noted for further investigation. Unfortunately, most current ophthalmoscopes are heavy, complicated to use and expensive – typically between £40-200. Only about a third of medical students buy one whilst training, and those who do may not master the complexities of a typical device with its many lenses and settings. Because much of the expertise in using an ophthalmoscope can only be developed through training and practice, the opportunity to swiftly screen for certain conditions could be lost. Needless to say, in the third world, where the use of such devices would be extremely beneficial, the cost of such devices is prohibitive.

A simple, lens-free ‘Key-Ring’ ophthalmoscope has been invented by Roger Armour, a vascular surgeon, and modelled by Team Consulting Ltd, his development partner. The device will be small, lightweight, very low cost (likely manufacturing cost of less than 3GBP) and extremely easy to use. Because of this, the technology has the potential to transform the diagnosis of certain diseases in the third world, and, by facilitating ownership and training, should enable a much broader range of healthcare professionals to make diagnoses in developed countries.

Hermann von Helmholtz invented the ophthalmoscope in 1851 with an ingenious use of lenses. Not since has anyone, to our knowledge, developed a lens-free device.

Preliminary studies show the lens-free “Key-Ring” ophthalmoscope compares well against the standard direct ophthalmoscope, and Mr Armour has tested the device on hundreds of individuals from 1-87 years of age.

The device is the subject of a patent application and is one of the finalists in this year’s prestigious Medical Futures awards; a presentation describing the development was awarded the Ian Fraser Cup for one of the two best posters at the Oxford Ophthalmological Congress in July.

Mr Armour and Team Consulting are currently investigating potential partners and sources of funding to take the next steps in the product development, which are to design the product for high volume manufacture, and establish distribution routes in its various markets.

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