While the DIY craze continues to gather strength, rarely do we find individuals taking medical development into their own hands. There are exceptions to be found in the “DIY RFID implant” (1,2) as well as one cochlear implant implantee seeking new firmware for his ear. However, after diabetes wreaked havoc on her retinas, Elizabeth Goldring enlisted the help of Harvard engineering students to help her build a $4000 version of a $100k scanning laser opthalmoscope. The New York Times has more:
She wanted a scaled-down version to use on her own, and she thought other people with impaired vision would want one, too. About 14 million people in the United States have low vision – deficits that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, according to the National Eye Institute. Diabetes, glaucoma and the retinal disease macular degeneration are among the most common causes.
Ms. Goldring had tried just about every device made to help people with low vision, but the doctor’s machine was far better than any of them. She imagined using a home or library version of it.
The idea of creating a new device did not intimidate her: though she is not a scientist or engineer, she works at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I was convinced it would work,” she said, though she added, “at first people were really, really suspicious.”
She and a team of M.I.T. students collaborated with the machine’s inventor, Robert W. Webb, a researcher at Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration paid for part of the project.
The result is what Ms. Goldring calls a seeing machine, a smaller, simpler desktop device that cost less than $4,000 to build. It consists of a projector, computer, monitor, eyepiece and a joystick for zooming in and out. It uses light-emitting diodes instead of a laser.
Ten people with severely impaired vision tried out the prototype as part of a pilot study, Ms. Goldring said.
Most can see only three or four letters at a time or tiny bits of a picture, and even that can be hard and slow. For people with vision like hers, she said, words like book and door can be almost indecipherable because the letters b or d followed by o create a weird visual effect.
For that reason, Ms. Goldring created a “visual language” that combines letters and simple pictures to represent hundreds of nouns and verbs. For example, the word book is a b, the outline of an open book and then a k. Door is a d, the outline of a doorway and then an r.
Patients in the study liked the visual language and it made reading easier and faster; one woman liked it so much she wished her recipes could be written in it, Ms. Goldring said.
Interesting to see a relatively simple solution (when compared to alternatives like retinal implants) that works for the low vision population. Also interesting to see that NASA funded some of the research. Guess this goes against what we said previously about their workout equipment.