Tiny OCT retinal scanner could diagnose blindness early

A compact, cost-effective retinal scanner that uses OCT imaging to diagnose retinal diseases early is being developed.

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Scientists at the Medical University of Vienna (Austria) and collaborators are developing a compact, cost-effective retinal scanner that uses optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging to diagnose retinal diseases that cause blindness early.

Related: Handheld OCT device promises screening for retinal disease in primary care

The retina, which is 0.25 mm thick and has over 10 layers, is very difficult to access at the back of the eye with any other technology than OCT. Professor Wolfgang Drexler, Professor of Medical Physics and Head of Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the Medical University of Vienna who is leading the OCTChip project, explains that conventional OCT technology has the limitations of being bulky and expensive, costing around €100,000 ($112,000) per unit. But the OCTChip project, Drexler says, targets the size of a 1-cent coin, will reduce costs, and is maintenance-free, allowing early diagnosis of retinal diseases like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma at the point of care.

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The OCTChip device will work via Bluetooth on a smartphone or tablet, enabling improved healthcare in remote Third World areas. As a miniaturized imaging technique, the implications mean it could probably be used as a battery-operated capsule for gastrointestinal diagnosis in the future. Better still, Drexler says, is that the scanner could be made so user-friendly that self-diagnosis will be possible.

The OCTChip team hopes to have refined their first prototype by end of 2017, with the ultimate goal of releasing it commercially around 2020.

For more information, please visit www.photonics21.org.

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