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Smartphone as a tool for eye diagnostics
A new adapter for smartphones enables inexpensive and fast eye screening. According to a recent study, the new method is well suited for the telemedical diagnosis of dangerous retinal diseases.
Researchers at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn presented a new smartphone adapter with a special lens that can be used to screen eye diseases. In particular, widespread retinal diseases in premature babies can be uncovered quickly and cheaply. The study was recently published in the renowned scientific reports.
Eye growth in premature babies
If a newborn is born prematurely, vascularization in the retina is not yet complete. There is therefore an increased risk in premature babies that small veins in the eye begin to proliferate. The additional administration of oxygen can intensify this effect.
Early treatment stops the growths
These growths can trigger a so-called premature retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if left untreated, since the proliferating vessels can cause retinal detachment. This can be prevented, for example, by drug injections or laser treatments.
Premature retinopathy on the rise
This requires that such growths be uncovered by screening. This in turn presupposes that sufficient specialist personnel and suitable diagnostic methods are available. This is often a problem in emerging markets. Recent evaluations show that premature retinopathy is on the rise in countries such as Brazil, India and China.
"We now speak of a true 'epidemic' - even if this term is otherwise only used for infectious diseases," explains eye expert Dr. Maximilian Wintergerst. In these countries, on the one hand, medical care is good enough that many premature babies survive. On the other hand, there is a lack of means to examine the retinal development of the premature babies sufficiently closely.
Previous diagnostic devices were very expensive
Such a shortage of doctors can be countered by telemedical approaches. The examination is carried out by trained non-medical staff such as nurses or nurses. The evaluation is then carried out over the Internet by an ophthalmologist. The devices required for this are currently very expensive and are often not purchased in emerging countries.
Eye diagnostic device for less than 1000 euros
The newly developed smartphone adapter with special lens costs less than 1000 euros. It can be attached to a standard smartphone. Then images of the patient's retina are taken using a cell phone camera. "Our study shows that the quality of the recordings made with it is excellent", adds Professor Dr. Tim Krohne, Head of the Premature Outpatient Clinic at Bonn University Eye Clinic. The image resolution is at least equivalent to the expensive devices. The portability of the adapter is an important advantage.
Mobile phone recordings keep up with expensive diagnostic procedures
Two independent experts evaluated the images of 26 eyes. On the one hand, the experts were presented with pictures from the conventional method and the smartphone recordings. The experts did not know which source the recordings came from. It was shown that smartphone diagnostics achieved a level of accuracy comparable to that of expensive conventional diagnostics.
Advantages of smartphone recordings
In addition to the price-performance ratio, the uncomplicated transmission of the pictures is another advantage. In this way, the images can be quickly sent to specialized ophthalmologists for telemedical assessment. In addition, an app is currently being tested that can use artificial intelligence to pre-evaluate retinal images.
Can also be used for other retinal diseases
Wintergerst and his colleagues say they have had very good experiences with the examination using a smartphone. You have been using the method successfully for two years. In addition to retinopathy, this method can also be used to diagnose other eye diseases such as diabetes-related retinal damage. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- Maximilian WM Wintergerst, MD, Michael Petrak, MD, Jeany Q. Li, MD, Petra P. Larsen, MD, Moritz Berger, Ph.D., Frank G. Holz, MD, Robert P. Finger, MD, Ph.D ., Tim U. Krohne, MD: Non-contact smartphone-based fundus imaging compared to conventional fundus imaging: a low-cost alternative for retinopathy of prematurity screening and documentation; Scientific Reports, 2019, nature.com
- Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn: smartphone for eye diagnostics in premature babies (available on 23.12.2019), uni-bonn.de