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Mechanical engineer helps eye doctors turn smart phone into diagnostic tool

Mechanical engineer helps eye doctors turn smart phone into diagnostic tool

In this interdisciplinary project, graduate student Alexandre Jais turned out quick prototypes on his 3D printer at home.
March 11, 2014
Robert Chang, MD, Alexandre Jais, and Dr. David Myung

Stanford engineers love to solve real world problems, and one recent example of this arises from a story about how researchers at Stanford Medical School turned a smartphone into an inexpensive tool for doing eye examinations in the field.

The idea is to use the smartphone’s built-in camera to take diagnostic images of the retina, optic nerve and other eye tissues. To accomplish this the researchers developed an adaptor that holds the smartphone and a magnification lens. The lens peers into the eye. The adaptor holds the smartphone camera at just the right distance from the lens to take a sharp picture of the magnified image of the inner eye.

Alexandre Jais, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, is part of the team that developed this adapter. He built the first prototypes on his personal 3-D printer and worked with the medical team to refine the adapter using equipment at the Stanford Product Realization Laboratory.

The new system allows ordinary medical practitioners to take eye scans and transmit them online to specialists for diagnosis.

“Think Instagram for the eye,” said one of the developers, assistant professor of ophthalmology Robert Chang, MD.

Jais became involved in the project last year after he met Chang at the StartX Medical Innovation Challenge, an event that encourages practical projects focused on health.

Once Chang introduced Jais to ophthalmology resident David Myung, MD, PhD, and other team members, they wasted no time.

“We had a quick and dirty prototype ready within days and kept working on simpler designs that I could prototype using my 3D Printer at home” Jais said. “Having access to that home machine allowed me to iterate extremely quickly, and feedback from the physicians testing the device allowed us to refine the device for high definition prototyping at the PRL.”

The device has obvious benefits in the developing world, where it puts an inexpensive tool in the hands of ordinary medical practitioners in the remote locations.

But it could be just as relevant here in settings where time is of the essence.

“Imagine a car accident victim arriving in the emergency department with an eye injury resulting in a hyphema — blood inside the front of her eye,” Myung said. “Normally the physician would have to describe this finding in her electronic record with words alone. Smartphones today not only have the camera resolution to supplement those words with a high-resolution photo but also the data-transfer capability to upload that photo securely to the medical record in a matter of seconds.”

For Jais, the pace of the project has been as exciting as the outcome.

“I’m extremely happy to be part of the team, especially as more and more doctors are starting to use our device,” he said, adding that the team is getting funding to increase production, which will give him a chance to work on new engineering challenges.

Tom Abate is associate director of communications at Stanford Engineering.