Saving Sight

Published: April 25, 2009

A group of innovators at Indiana University believe that an affordable diagnostic camera could help save the vision of millions of people with diabetes. And so they—Dr. Ann Elsner, director of IU’s Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research, IU optical engineer Matt Muller, and IU Senior Scientist Benno Petrig—are inventing one.

“The Laser Scanning Digital Camera is designed to give sharp images of the retina without needing dilating drops, even for older patients,” Dr. Elsner told the Post. “To accomplish this, the light used to take the pictures of the retina is in a special wavelength range, the near infrared, which is nearly invisible to the patient.  Using near infrared light prevents the pupil from closing down, which would happen if bright lights were flashed into the eye.”

The prototype laser scanning digital camera is expected to cost about one-fourth of current versions, saving money for health providers and their patients. By expanding the opportunity for early and affordable screenings, Elsner and her fellow researchers hope that cases of diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of vision loss in working adults around the world, could be treated far earlier to prevent vision loss.

“By using an ordinary CMOS sensor, such as that found in a cell phone or consumer grade digital camera,” explains Dr. Elsner, “the light returning from the retina is detected one area at a time. This design feature leads to an image with enough contrast to detect damage in the retina that may be too small to see in a standard eye examination.”

The patented camera is licensed to Elsner’s start-up company, Aeon Imaging, LLC.

“Right now we have a bench-top prototype, and we are serious about spinning it out for the main reason that too many people are going blind,” Elsner concluded. “This product is eventually about putting our health dollars where they count.”

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