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New Inexpensive Device Can Diagnose Cataracts In Minutes

July 5, 2011

MIT researchers have developed a device that can clip on to any smartphone and provide a diagnosis of cataracts within a few minutes.

The standard test to detect cataracts requires a $5,000 piece of equipment called a slit lamp, as well as a trained physician to interpret its results.

The new-inexpensive device scans the lens of the eye and creates a map showing its position, size, shape and density of cataracts, according to the researchers.

Ramesh Raskar, the NEC Career Development Associate Professor of Computer and Communications and director of the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture group, said “I like to think of this as a radar for the human eye.”

The researchers say the new device provides more information than doctors need at this time. 

However, the team said that the new system, also known as Catra, could provide great value as a simple and low-cost way of making the initial diagnosis that cataracts are present.

The new device may be able to detect cataracts at an earlier stage than existing tests as well. 

The current device depends on light reflected back by the lens, while Catra relies on light passing through the lens.  The patient informs the person performing the test whether the light remains steady, dims or disappears.

“We turned the problem around,” Raskar said in a statement. “Instead of asking the doctor, we ask the patient.”

Catra will be presented at the annual computer-graphics conference SIGGRAPH on August 7 through 11 in Vancouver. 

Joseph Ciolino, an ophthalmologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement: “Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide and a large problem in the developing world.”

“Since the blindness can be treated by surgically removing the cataract, the diagnosis is important, and patients may not know that they have a treatable condition. If they can be accurately diagnosed, then they are more likely to seek treatment,” he says.

There are 250 million people in the world who are blind because of preventable causes.  Raskar said a device like Catra could make a serious dent in that number.

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