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Company aims to revolutionize global standards for eye care

Kate O'Connell

A western New York photonics manufacturing company has received a $973,000 grant from the National Institute of Health. The two year grant awarded to Lumetrics, is for the development of a clinically tested retinal imaging tool prototype.Retinal imaging cameras take photos of the internal layers of the eye and are used in the diagnosis and tracking of blinding diseases.

Most current cameras are large, hard to mobilize and expensive, costing up to $60,000. They also require trained technicians to operate them.

Dr. David Kleinman of the Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester says the result is that many clinics cannot afford the equipment and patients miss out on a key part of the diagnostic process.

Kleinman says most people without insurance are not able to go to a clinic where retinal imaging is possible, but that it is crucial in preventing blindness.

“Images of the retina are critical for diagnosing and following ophthalmology problems that cause blinding disease in all the major countries – these are glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy.”

Kleinman is working with Lumetrics to develop a low cost, hand held, digital retinal imaging tool.

Their design looks like a large digital thermometer and it works by having the smooth tip of the camera coming into brief contact with the anesthetized cornea of the patient.

Images are taken immediately on contact and then can be sent wirelessly from the device to a computer.

And Kleinman says they hope it will be inexpensive to purchase -- $2,000 is the price he uses as a hypothetical.

The CEO of Lumetrics, John Hart, says this tool will improve access to vision-related healthcare both in the U.S. and abroad.

“The price point and the convenience will allow it to get into more doctors’ offices,” said Hart.

Kleinman says this tool will help early diagnosis of treatable eye diseases and reduce the rate of preventable vision loss.

And Lumetrics’ Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Fillip Ignatovich, says this will take a strain off the economy as well as individuals.

“It’s estimated that blindness and visual impairment cost the United States over $50 billion annually in lost wages and productivity and medical bills,” Ignatovich.

“As more and more people enter retirement age, then the number of Americans who are blind or visually impaired is expected to rise dramatically.”

For more from the Innovation Trail, visit their website www.innovationtrail.org

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between five upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail