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Studying blindness? There's an app for that

Monday, 24 September 2012

School researcher uses the latest technology to prevent blindness in the developing world

An eye surgeon studying for his PhD at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is combining the latest advances in space exploration and mobile technology to prevent blindness in the developing world.

In an article that won the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Dr Andrew Bastawrous, Research Fellow in International Eye Health, explains the reasons for developing his Eye Phone and his plans to rigorously test it in the field when he moves to Kenya next month to carry out research.

Despite 80% of blindness being curable or preventable, the majority of blind people with treatable eye conditions live in developing countries and have no access to suitable healthcare.

Dr Bastawrous hopes to overcome this problem by combining gadgets and applications that make it possible to use a modified smartphone to measure someone's vision, check their refractive error (glasses prescription), take photos of the back of the eye for diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macula degeneration and glaucoma and check for the presence of a cataract.

This data can then be shared with specialists anywhere in the world to provide expert diagnosis and treatment plans in even the most remote locations. Individuals can be located on an interactive Google Map,and  then be retraced and contacted to arrange treatment or follow up.

At one-fiftieth of the price of hospital equipment and with only one non-specialist needed to perform the test, the examiner can go to the patient rather than the patient waiting for someone who may never come.

Dr Bastawrous said: "When people work to improve healthcare, they often look at the latest developments in healthcare to improve from within. I'm taking an alternative approach by looking at different industries to utilise what already exists elsewhere. If my Eye Phone is found to work after I complete thorough scientific testing in the field, I hope people around the world can benefit. And with the fast-paced advances in mobile technology, this innovation will continue to get better and better automatically as mobile phones improve."

The award-winning article, Studying blindness – There's an app for that, was published in full by Metro and described by judges at the Medical Research Council as doing a great job of articulating the promise of his research.

(Image: What the smartphone application would look like in action. Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/benimage & Andrew Bastawrous)

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