A hand-held scanner stands to transform eye disease screening protocols. In a new paper, researchers from the Massachusetts of Technology describe their newly developed opthalmic-screening instrument –– a groundbreaking primary care unit that uses 3-D imaging technology to achieve unprecedented precision. The innovation, which scans a patient’s entire retina in a matter of seconds, may allow early detection of diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and many other types of blinding eye disease.

Advancements in ophthalmology and eye care have led to a range of sophisticated instruments capable of detecting early signs of eye disease. However, most of this technology is limited to specialized practices and physicians. The new study, which is published in the latest issue of the open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, shows how the new hand-held scanner will make these key advancements available in routine screening and first-line care.

"The hand-held platform allows the diagnosis or screening to be performed in a much wider range of settings," study author and developer James Fujimoto said in a press release. "Developing screening methods that are accessible to the larger population could significantly reduce unnecessary vision loss."

Described by its developers as an amalgam of cutting-edge technologies, the new scanner uses 3-D imaging and movement-correction to produce a clear, detailed profile of a patient’s eye. At its core, it is an imaging technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) –– a method pioneered by the same research team back in the 1990s. The technique, which is roughly analogous to ultrasound and radar imaging, projects onto the eye an infrared beam in which its “echo” yields a cross-sectional tissue structure of the retina.

Eye Disease Screening & Primary Care

The new OCT device exemplifies the emergence of new methods and technologies aimed at extending eye disease screening to points of care beyond specialized optometry. Another example is “Colorimetric and Longitudinal Analysis of Leukocoria in Recreational Photographs of Children with Retinoblastoma” –– a Harvard study that shows how a smartphone or a digital camera can be used to detect the rare pediatric eye cancer retinoblastoma.

“The advantages of this system enable it to be applied as an easy-to-use screening tool for retinal diseases,” the developers wrote in their conclusion. “Advancements in handheld OCT technology promise to enable applications outside of the traditional ophthalmology and optometry clinics, in pediatrics, intraoperative, primary care, developing countries, and military medicine.”

C. Lu, M. Kraus, B. Potsaid, J. Liu, W. Choi, V. Jayaraman, A. Cable, J. Hornegger, J. Duker, and J. Fujimoto, "Handheld ultrahigh speed swept source optical coherence tomography instrument using a MEMS scanning mirror," Biomed. Opt. Express 5, 293-311 (2014).