Smartphones to Improve Eye Care

A University of Michigan ophthalmologist is working to bring health applications plus the convenience and reliability of smartphones into the doctor’s office as well as to enrich eye care.

“We want to use an iPhone for the camera, computational power, and its connectivity to turn the smartphone into a retinal camera which is traditionally a challenging and expensive tool”, said Tyson Kim M.D., PhD a resident ophthalmologist at U-M’s Kellogg Eye Center  

“The back of the eye is the only place on the body where you can see blood vessels and nerves directly. There are a lot of applications, but the exam is rarely performed since it is so inaccessible”, Kim said.

Also, a retinal camera traditionally has cost upwards of $100,000 and even though the equipment has become more reasonably priced lately, it is still immobile and hard to use. The professionals who operate retinal cameras in eye clinics traditionally go through a two year training program.

A smartphone slides into the CellScope Retina device to turn it into a functioning retinal camera. Then a primary care physician or other healthcare provider is able to image the back of a patient’s eye in the doctor’s office. The device is undergoing continuing development at the U-M Kellogg Eye Center with the goal of not requiring pharmacological dilation of the patient’s eye.

Kim received the “Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (M-TRAC) Fast- Forward Medical Innovation Award” for his work based on moving the device into commercial industry. The team along with Kim, is currently performing usability testing and will begin beta testing soon in a primary care setting.

The M-TRAC award program was modeled after a successful commercialization process developed by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to commercialize medical devices by biomedical engineers in collaboration with medical clinicians to solve specific problems.

The program is designed to de-risk a given technology as rapidly as possible to attract subsequent rounds of development funding. The process depends upon close involvement of an Oversight Committee that selects the projects. A typical project might include total funding in the range of $20,000 to $70,000 to include matching funds of about 30 percent of the total project budget.

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