The Grapevine

Affordable Eye Scanner Designed To Prevent Blindness

A lighter, cheaper eye-scanning tool may soon be available across the U.S. thanks to Duke University engineers, who created a device 15 times smaller than current commercial systems but provides images 95 percent as sharp as those from larger scanners.

The new portable optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanner is made through 3D printing technology. Developers said the tool could help prevent blindness across the country and potentially in underserved regions abroad.

Despite being light and using cheaper materials, the Duke team noted their OCT scanner maintained high quality images. During its first clinical trial, the tool effectively produced images of 120 retinas determined sufficient for accurate clinical diagnosis.

The developers said that they mainly aim to make eye scanners available in remote areas to help prevent blindness worldwide. To date, existing systems cost more than $100,000, making it less available in remote areas and only in large eye centers.

Since the 1990s, hospitals have been using OCT imaging to diagnose eye diseases, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Some eye conditions are preventable when treated early. 

"Once you have lost vision, it's very difficult to get it back, so the key to preventing blindness is early detection," Adam Wax, professor of biomedical engineering at Duke, said in a statement. "Our goal is to make OCT drastically less expensive so more clinics can afford the devices, especially in global health settings."

Wax and his team designed a new type of spectrometer using a 3D printer for their small OCT tool. The spectrometer provides a circular light path, which enables the scanner to balance expansions or contractions due to temperature changes. 

The scanner is also features a larger detector to reduce the light misalignments. The materials used on the device cut its weight down to four pounds, compared to commercial eye scanners that weigh more than 60 pounds. 

"Right now OCT devices sit in their own room and require a PhD scientist to tweak them to get everything working just right," Wax said. "Ours can just sit on a shelf in the office and be taken down, used and put back without problems. We've scanned people in a Starbucks with it."

Developers said their OCT scanner may only cost less than $15,000. The device will be sold through a start-up company called Lumedica.

OCT Scanner This OCT system designed at Duke University is 15 times lighter and smaller than current commercial systems and is made from parts costing less than a tenth the retail price of commercial systems -- all without sacrificing imaging quality. Adam Wax, Duke University