As the number of diabetics grows, so too does the number of people who suffer from diabetic retinopathy (DR). Caused by damage to the blood vessels in the tissues at the back of the eye, DR is the most common cause of vision loss in working-age adults. The good news is that, if detected early, DR is treatable. The not so good news is because the disease is asymptomatic in its early phases, diabetics require regular eye screenings. The bad news: due to a limited number of ophthalmologists, particularly in rural and developing regions, the majority of diabetics lack access to regular screenings. Optomed, a Finnish medical technology company, hopes to change this by bringing eye screenings to the masses. With the support of EU funding, it is developing Smartscope-X, an affordable, accessible and fully automatic screening device. “Our mission is to provide innovative and affordable solutions that enable eye screenings for everyone,” says Optomed CEO Seppo Kopsala. “With Smartscope-X, we now have a product that can save the sight – and lives – of millions of people worldwide.”
Ready access to screening services
The genius of Smartscope-X is its combination of a low-cost, customised handheld fundus camera with artificial intelligence (AI) for automated diagnosis. A fundus camera, also known as a retinal camera, is a specialised low-power microscope with an attached camera that ophthalmologists use to photograph the eye’s interior surface. The process starts with the Optomed Screen, the company’s screening management software. “This software saves costs and time by automating everything from sending an invitation to a patient to scheduling the screening, reporting results, transferring images and making referrals,” remarks Kopsala. To screen a patient, a healthcare provider uses the Optomed Aurora handheld fundus camera to easily capture retinal images. “Because the camera is small and handheld, it can be taken to the patient as opposed to having the patient come to you,” adds Kopsala. “This alone increases the likelihood of a patient getting regular screenings.” The images are then sent to the company’s AI screening tool. Here, the programme uses specially designed algorithms to analyse the images for signs of DR or other eye diseases. This information and the images are stored in a cloud service where the ophthalmologists – often working remotely – can review them. They can then consult with the patient via Optomed’s telemedicine service. “The ability to easily screen and automatically diagnose has the potential to help diabetics take the necessary steps to prevent them from going blind,” explains Kopsala. “Now, whether you are living in rural Poland or developing Africa, you always have ready access to eye screening services.”
A step change in blindness prevention
Once finalised, Smartscope-X will represent a step change in blindness prevention. “Today, significant equipment and an experienced ophthalmologist are needed to conduct a DR screening,” concludes Kopsala. “But Smartscope-X means anyone can be trained to conduct a full screening in just a couple of hours, using equipment that costs just a fraction of the price and that can be used anywhere, anytime.” In preparing to bring its Smartscope-X solution to market, the company is currently finalising clinical validations and is seeking the necessary regulatory approvals. They are also working to establish a data safety and storage system.
Smartscope-X, eye screenings, artificial intelligence, AI, cloud computing, eye diseases, diabetics, diabetic retinopathy, vision loss, fundus cameras, ophthalmologists