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June 14, 2001
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Wilmer Eye Institute Invention I.D.'s Diabetics At Risk For Vision Loss

"More than half of all diabetics do not receive eye exams as recommended." – Ran Zeimer, Ph.D.

An automated camera developed at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute is as effective in identifying potentially blinding disease among diabetics as the favored "gold standard" technique – seven-field color stereo-photography of the back of the eye, according to a study by researchers at Hopkins and two other institutions.

When compared to the "gold standard" photography, the camera, called the DigiScope, correctly identified 99.5 percent of disease cases among 112 patients ages 18 and up, and recognized some abnormal cases that the standard photography did not. The DigiScope also identified normal cases 96 percent of the time. In addition, nearly 83 percent of patients felt the DigiScope was more comfortable than traditional photography.

These findings, from a study led by Rhett Schiffman, M.D., at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, were presented recently at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. As a result, the researchers are placing the cameras in some primary care physician offices to increase screening of diabetics for eye complications.

The DigiScope takes images of the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye, to screen for early signs of diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States ages 20 to 74. The condition occurs when faulty blood vessels grow in the eye or when the retina swells, thereby decreasing vision. The camera also estimates visual acuity.

"More than half of all diabetics do not receive eye exams as recommended," says Ran Zeimer, Ph.D., study author, inventor of the DigiScope and professor of ophthalmology at Wilmer. "The DigiScope is a tool to preserve vision among a population that otherwise might not be screened in time to save their sight."

Patients sit in front of the DigiScope and look at a series of blinking lights while the camera takes the photos. The imaging process takes approximately 10 minutes. The digital images are automatically encrypted for security and sent via the Internet from the physician’s office to a reading center staffed by readers and retinal specialists. The images are then interpreted by the reading center staff, who determine if the patient needs to be referred to an ophthalmologist for care.

By contrast, conventional cameras used to take pictures of the retina require a trained photographer to obtain several images through the pupil from different angles to get the wide, three-dimensional view necessary for accurate diagnosis. The images typically are not designed for Internet transmission.

The Johns Hopkins University, which holds the patent to the DigiScope, has signed a license agreement with EyeTel Imaging Inc. of Centreville, Va. The researchers plan to expand the scope of the screening program to include glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, also major causes of blindness in the United States.

Zeimer and the University are entitled to sales royalty and own stock in EyeTel Imaging Inc. The terms of this arrangement are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.


Related Web sites:

Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins:  http://www.wilmer.jhu.edu

EyeTel Imaging:  http://www.eyetel-imaging.com

Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology:  http://www.arvo.org

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