(Inside Science) -- Interview with Karam Alawa at the University of Miami:
“When you consider vision, it’s something that we often take for granted. People are born seeing, or see, we never think that we might not be seeing, and there are people out there who don’t have vision. They have either blurry vision, bad vision or no vision at all, and I don’t think we can really understand what that’s like, until it happens.
“Glaucoma is an optic neuropathy that is associated with an elevated intraocular pressure, that results in a progressive loss of visual field over time. So what that means for a patient, is they’ll slowly lose peripheral vision until they realize there’s no vision left and they go blind. And this vision loss is irreversible.
“Because it has such an insidious onset, patients don’t usually realize that they have it until it’s too late. For people who see an ophthalmologist regularly, an ophthalmologist might be able to catch glaucoma coming on by [using] different measurements, and they can be treated early. But for those who maybe don’t have access to healthcare, or who don’t see an ophthalmologist regularly, they might not know they have glaucoma until it’s too late.
“What we can do is screen for it in the community. So, the technology I’m targeting is actually the visual field test. The machine is called the Humphrey [Visual Field Test] and it tests visual field. Patients put their head into this big machine and they look specifically at this little black dot, and [are] asked not to look around, so this machine shows these little flickers, little stimuli, in their peripheral vision, and they’re asked to press a button when they see these stimuli. If you are affected by glaucoma, and you have that peripheral vision loss, you won’t see these stimuli and that will come up on the report.
“The problem with these machines is they’re very large, they’re very expensive. My whole project is centered around making these machines smaller, cheaper and more accessible. So the way we did that is we used a smartphone and a virtual reality headset. So, we take the smartphone, we program the test onto it, and then we place it into a virtual reality headset, [which has] a small little Bluetooth remote. It’s a small, portable machine that patients can wear anywhere and take the test.
“As far as what we need to do from now looking forward, we have to validate the device, you know, see, does it actually work? Is it actually comparable to the existing standard? And from there we can talk about, you know, different options, as far as getting it out there.
“Glaucoma is actually the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. If we’re able to prevent that or improve that, the quality of life aspect here -- you can improve someone’s quality of life drastically by preserving their vision, or doing anything you can to improve that vision, and that’s what motivates me to pursue this project and get this out there.”