A low-cost device capable of capturing 3D images could transform eye screening and treatment, University of Strathclyde researchers predict.
Patients with conditions such as glaucoma, which is the third most common cause of visual impairment worldwide and affects an estimated 7.7 million people, are often diagnosed by highly trained specialists, who look at photos and give a subjective opinion on the 3D structure of the back of the eye.
Although there are existing instruments for 3D imaging, including optical coherence tomography technology – the machines can cost up to £100,000, often making them too expensive for large-scale population use, especially in low-income countries.
However, optometrists all over the world have access to slit lamps. The new technology is a simple and inexpensive add-on to a standard lamp, and can extend 3D eye imaging to all settings where optometrists are present.
A modified version of the technology has the potential to create 3D retinal ‘selfies’ without an operator, meaning it could be deployed in unassisted settings like pharmacies.
Researcher Dr Mario Giardini said: “Patients can be imaged easily and inexpensively, without the need for a specialist to be present. Our device reliably takes 3D images, and it is comfortable and fast, at less than a second.
“The technology has the potential to revolutionise the screening and follow-up within the community of conditions such as glaucoma, as any optometrist, anywhere in the world, could afford it. This work makes eye diagnostics more accessible, reducing inequalities.”
Dr Iain Livingstone, consultant ophthalmologist at NHS Forth Valley, said: “So much of what we do as eye doctors depends on seeing things in 3D. While photographs can be helpful, this innovation uses visible light to re-create a high-fidelity 3D representation of eye structures, allowing precise measurements to be taken in a completely new way, piggybacking on the method of examination we already do routinely.
“It’s a crucial addition to the way we interpret information, harnessing digital to glean so much more from a slit lamp exam, with potential reach far beyond the hospital toward community optometry, bringing nuanced measuring tools closer to home for patients.”
The researchers also hope it can eventually be used to detect eye cancer and replace ocular ultrasound devices.