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26 November 2014, 06:00
A smartphone device which healthcare workers can use to carry out eye examinations could help tackle blindness around the world, according to scientists.
The Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) consists of smartphone apps and an adapter which can be used anywhere in the world to test eyes easily and at low cost in the community.
The Peek Retina smartphone adapter clips over the phone's camera and enables health workers to see inside the eye, save the photos and then send them to experts for diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
It could help detect eye diseases and other health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The Peek tools are being developed as a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Strathclyde and the NHS Glasgow Centre for Ophthalmic Research.
People are now being urged to raise extra funds to manufacture and deliver Peek tools through crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
Dr Andrew Bastawrous, a clinical lecturer and ophthalmologist within the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "With Peek we are hoping to increase the access to eye care to the millions of people who are blind and shouldn't be. For this to be a success we need to find a sustainable way of sharing the technology as far and wide as possible.
"There are so many hard-working and excellent eye care workers in hospitals and charities worldwide and one of the greatest challenges they face is getting expertise and diagnostic tools to remote locations - we hope Peek will support their efforts to alleviate unnecessary sight loss.''
Peek was formed after co-founder Dr Bastawrous experienced a logistical nightmare trying to transport bulky eye equipment to remote areas in Kenya during a community study as part of his PhD at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
He was convinced there must be a better way to do things and turned his attention to the potential power of smartphones, teaming up with his fellow Peek co-founders, Stewart Jordan, software developer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr Mario Giardini and Dr Iain Livingstone, to make the idea a reality.
In 2013, Peek received funding from The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust towards its research and development.
The team will be conducting a pioneering series of trials over the next five years to test the technology in various settings and communities including Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, India and the UK.
Dr Giardini, lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, said: "Peek Retina is the optimal combination of solid engineering experience, ingenuity and outlook to social impact. The Peek Retina adapter is the most exciting thing my group has ever designed; it is incredibly simple and yet it will change the way we look at eyes.''
Millions of people worldwide are blind, and 80% of all blind people have needlessly lost their sight through preventable or treatable conditions, researchers said.
Those interested in supporting the project can go to www.supportpeek.com and buy Peek Retina for their own use, or pledge funds to enable the adapter to be manufactured and distributed to suitable low-income settings.
Dr Livingstone, an ophthalmologist and research fellow based at the NHS Glasgow Centre for Ophthalmic Research, said: "With Peek Retina, imaging can be performed with minimal training using a smartphone.
"We hope that in the near future, integration of Peek Retina with computerised grading systems will bring high quality screening to resource poor settings, detecting such blinding conditions as diabetic eye disease, helping connect patients with treatment.''