In order to reduce rates of preventable blindness, screening for treatable eye diseases has become increasingly important as the population ages in the United States and around the world. Early detection and diagnosis is vital to preserve retinal and optic nerve function. Currently, routine eye examinations are performed by highly skilled practitioners using complex and expensive ophthalmic devices. As a result, patients without access to skilled practitioners are at risk for visual loss. Additionally, capturing and storing images of the back of the eye is critical to good ophthalmic care in many cases. Traditional fundus cameras are expensive, large and also require a skilled technician to operate. While the recorded images are in general of high quality, current fundus cameras are not well adapted to screening and transport. In order to address the need for an accurate, user-friendly, durable, hand-held and portable camera system for screening, early diagnosis and follow up of retinal and optic nerve diseases, a new affordable imaging system is required. This Phase I SBIR application proposes to address these needs by conceptualizing the design of a hand- held pen-sized fundus camera. Such camera contains optical and electronic components within the same housing. The operator brings the front lens of the camera into contact with the patient's cornea. The focusing, image acquisition and analysis is performed automatically by the camera. The camera notifies the operator of successful image acquisition by an audio signal. The acquired image or images are either displayed on a small integrated screen or transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer for a more though inspection and storage. The Phase I work is aimed at developing and constructing the imaging and illumination paths of the camera housed in the same hand-held structure. Other parts of the out-of-form prototype camera, such as illumination sources and electronics, will be located in a bench-top setting, and image analysis is performed by a PC. Using the constructed prototype, some preliminary fundus imaging will be performed in-vivo. The outcome of the project is a small bench top prototype platform with a hand- held unit that will serve as a launching pad for miniaturization efforts scheduled in Phase II. The conducted research will determine the practicality and ease of use of the camera, as well as determine the potential problems and solutions for obtaining good quality retinal images. At the conclusion of Phase I the feasibility of the hand-held retina camera will be demonstrated.
The proposed compact hand-held medical camera provides a dependable and simple way of conducting routine inspections of the human retina. Once properly positioned on a dilated eye, it automatically acquires high quality images of the retina and optic nerve that allow a medical professional to identify and follow common vision threatening disorders. In the majority of cases a trained user can obtain acceptable fundus images on patients in isolated, remote and underserved regions thereby reducing medical costs and rates of severe visual loss.