Q&A: Medical Eye Screening Device in Michigan

We learn more about the eye screening device which has just won a Michigan innovation award

Eye problems are rampant in the western world and can seriously impact people’s quality of life. This is why OcuSciences has been working on a technological solution to detect eye disease earlier.

This device has been through years of clinical trials and is now in use in two select research centers. Now named as Medical Main Street’s, Inno-vator of the Year, we catch up with President and COO, Kurt Riegger, to learn more about what is going on in the state of Michigan and how this Ann Arbor based company could help patients.

Can you describe what the device does and what makes it unique?

The instrument takes a picture of the back of the eye with a select blue wavelength of light that causes the power plant in the cell, the mitochondria, to fluoresce green if it is in a damaged state. Measuring the amount of the resulting green light gives a measure of the level of damage. Making this measure is exceedingly difficult because of the very low light levels and the other sources of fluorescence in the eye.    

Today optometrists and Ophthalmologists use structural imaging techniques which can show damage only very late in the disease process.  With a functional imaging technique such as ours we believe we can detect the disease process at the earliest onset and before the cellular damage is irreversible. 

How did the idea for this device come about?

Researchers at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, Drs Victor Elner and Howard Petty, wanted a way to study retinal tissue in humans that could show the health of the tissue. They could not take biopsies or stain the living human retina and so they looked for and found a non-invasive biomarker to assess the metabolic health of the tissue.  

In addition to being ophthalmology/vision science focused researchers they have additional backgrounds in biophysics and pathology. This unique combination of skills was able to identify a cellular signature and a way to accurately measure that signature.

This has been in clinical trial stage for several years, through which it has won several awards, what has been the hold up? (On the home page you mention 2012 as the potential release date.)

Creating a commercial version of the OcuMet instrument and developing lower cost methods for production have taken several years. The clinical trials for several of the disease states are multi-year studies.  

What stage of your clinical trials are you now at and when this is likely to be released?

The instrument is in use at two research centers today and will be available for investigational use at additional centers shortly.

Aside from diabetes and macular degeneration - which are both extremely prevalent in the US – can this help with the diagnosis of other serious conditions?

The OcuMet instrument is useful for care along the continuum of diabetes – from latent (undetected) diabetics, to the more severe damage of diabetic retinopathy and the late stages of damage: diabetic macular edema.  

Clinical studies in age related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma show very promising results. Toxicity from other drugs that can affect the retina have also been measured and assessed with high sensitivity with the instrument.

How technologically up-to-date is Michigan compared to other states?

We have brought R&D and prototype manufacturing back to Michigan from other centers. Michigan based firms have the ability to engineer and build medical devices with the best in the country.  We have been very fortunate to have tremendous talent from the University of Michigan College of Engineering and local firms which do prototype engineering.

There has been a big boom in technology to solve medical issues, where do you think all this is heading?

More patients being screened earlier and with more sensitive and specific diagnostics will reduce the total health care costs. Wearable monitors and iPhone level mobile computing give rise to new levels of health monitoring.  

Our device benefits from the recent advances in LEDs (Nobel Prize in 2014 awarded for Blue LED development), and semiconductor technology in digital scientific cameras. Finally, patient education about the effects of disease and faster feedback on whether a given therapy is working will improve patient outcomes.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with IDG Connect’s international technology audience?

With an aging population and an increasing focus on retaining vision for a better quality of life, techniques which can help eye care professionals and even general practitioners find and treat disease early will be welcome.

The OcuMet instrument, which can non-invasively and rapidly assess the dynamic health of the retinal tissue and by extension the central nervous system (i.e., brain tissue), is positioned to change the way disease is assessed, and new and novel therapies are evaluated.  We intend for the measure to become a new vital sign for retinal health.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect