This startup is bringing vision care to developing countries

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MIT spinout PlenOptika has developed a highly accurate, portable autorefractor called QuickSee that measures refractive errors of the eye. More affordable than the current technology, the device has potential to reach patients in previously inaccessible areas of developing countries. [Image from PlenOptika]

PlenOptika, an MIT startup, has developed a portable autorefractor device that measures refractive errors of the eye and is able to estimate prescriptions in 10 seconds, bringing vision care to less accessible areas.

The device, known as QuickSee, is more cost-effective than current technology and is currently on the market in India.

“People at the bottom of the pyramid have poor vision because they don’t have glasses or aren’t aware of how to get glasses. It’s a big unmet medical need we’re trying to address,” Shivang Dave, a former postdoc at MIT LinQ, said in a press release.

In a study with an early prototype, 708 patients were evaluated with the QuickSee. About 85% reported having 20/20 vision after receiving glasses using measurements that came from the device compared to 91% who were tested using the optometrist-based standard method.

Optometrist-based autorefractors are typically table-sized, heavy and can cost up to $15,000. They work by detecting reflections coming from infrared light that is shone through the eye to figure out the shape and size of the ring at the back of the eye. This allows for prescriptions for corrective lenses to be made.

QuickSee uses a modified version of a wavefront aberrometer that is used to map the eye before LASIK surgery. Light is shined into the eye and is reflected off the retina and can be measured once it passes through the lens and cornea of the eye. If there is a distortion in the light waves, it could represent vision errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. This method is also more precise than traditional autorefraction technology.

The device looks like a pair of large binoculars. Users look into the device and view an object at a distance. The technicians handling the device taps a green arrow on a digital screen to start the measurement and in about 10 seconds, the device produces a prescription estimate on the screen.

According to the startup, the device costs about a third of what an auto refractor costs and will be sold mostly in the U.S. The device currently measures both eyes at once, but PlenOptika developed a monocular version to measure one eye at a time in India and other developing countries.

QuickSee is expected to be sold to hospitals, NGOs and optometry practices that can train technicians and community healthcare workers who can travel to more rural areas. In the U.S. and more developed countries, the device will be sold to optometrists as a cheaper alternative to stationary equipment.

The researchers stress that the device is not intended to replace optometrists.

“We’re disrupting the tool used by optometrists, not optometrists,” Dave said.

PlenOptika’s QuickSee is a combination of autorefractor and waveform aberrometer technologies. It uses off-the-shelf optical parts and inexpensive electronics that are not as precisely engineered as medical- and scientific-grade components in traditional optometric equipment. PlenOptika used advanced image and data processing algorithms to make up for the less precise components.

The startup now hopes to scale up production of the device for its primary and secondary markets.

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