Optos plc, the company that has revolutionised eye care and the early detection of retinal defects with its ultra-wide retinal imagers, has won the UK’s most prestigious engineering innovation accolade – The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, securing a gold medal for the company and a £50,000 cash prize for the three team members.

The announcement was made last night at the Academy’s annual Awards Dinner in London, with HRH Duke of Kent as guest of honour.

Optos was founded in 1992 by Douglas Anderson after his then 5 year old son lost the sight in one eye due to a retinal detachment being diagnosed too late, despite regular eye examinations.

Routine retinal examination methods provide only a limited, narrow-field view of the retina, typically less than five per cent in a single capture. The limitations of these methods spurred Anderson on to oversee the development and commercialisation of a unique non-invasive imager which, in a mere quarter of a second, captures a high resolution digital image of over 80 per cent of the retina.

Such vastly increased performance has significantly reduced the risk of missing early signs of eye diseases, as well as indicators of other non-eye related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers, which are often first exhibited in the retina.

The technology platform behind this success is the Panoramic200 – Optos’ scanning laser ophthalmoscope. Known as the P200, it is aimed at primary health care whilst a variant – the P200MA – is used by retinal specialists and surgeons in secondary health care. The P200 makes use of low powered lasers, manipulated by ellipsoidal mirror technology, to maximise the area of the retina that can be seen, creating a ‘virtual scanning point’ inside the patient’s eye. The company’s proprietary suite of software allows the practitioner to capture, manipulate and enhance the image as required, enabling a detailed evaluation of the retina and producing a permanent clinical record of the examination. Over two thousand P200 devices are installed in eye and health care practices in the UK, Germany, USA and Canada, which have conducted 7.5 million patient examinations to date.

Optos has also applied an innovative approach to its business model. The high value equipment might normally be prohibitively expensive for many of its target customers to purchase, so Optos has adopted a ‘pay-per-patient’ model as the basis of its service contract, affording significant advantages. This approach involves no capital outlay for the customer and includes free software upgrades, on-site staff training by Optos personnel and regular maintenance of the equipment in a three-year contract.

“We work hard to save sight and to save lives; that’s what it’s always been about,” says Global Product Director Alastair Atkinson. “We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved so far; not only in terms of the technology but also in terms of how we strive to make our innovations available in the most cost-effective way for our customers as we can. To have the value of our technology and our contribution to society recognised by such an esteemed organisation as The Royal Academy of Engineering and its MacRobert Award means a great deal to us.”

Atkinson says it’s too early to say how the £50,000 cash prize will be spent: “The competition was very strong, and we didn’t want to tempt fate by discussing how we’d use the money before we even knew we’d won!” he says, “But it will definitely be put to good use.”

“Optos is a worthy winner and embodies the true spirit of the MacRobert Award", says Dr Robin Paul, Chairman of the judging panel. "Beginning with a brilliant innovatory concept, Optos has developed a revolutionary diagnostic instrument by dint of eight years determination, creativity and perseverance in solving the formidable technical problems they met on the way. In the years to come many people will owe their sight to the timely use of this outstanding example of clinical engineering.”

The winning team, comprising Alastair Atkinson, Executive Vice-Chairman Douglas Anderson and Chief Technology Officer David Cairns, will be presented with their cheque and each will receive a personal medal from the Academy’s Senior Fellow HRH Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace on 16 June 2006.

Notes for editors

  1. Optos plc

    Two independent low-powered lasers are combined into a single beam that is projected onto the patient’s retina and manipulated through a 200 degree angle. Light reflected from the retina is returned through the scanning system and converted to electrical impulses by highly sensitive photo-diodes. These impulses are in turn digitised and formatted through proprietary software to create the Optomap® retinal image.

    Optos reported and operating profit of $2 million on revenues of $48.4 million for the year ending September 2005, and floated on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange in February 2006.
  2. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and up to five team members with a tax-free prize of £50,000 between them.
  3. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Academy after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry.
  4. The 2005 winner of the MacRobert Award was CSR plc, the Cambridge-based wireless silicon company, for its single chip BlueCore™ family, the revolutionary devices which have fuelled the rise of Bluetooth wireless products, from mobile phones to medical devices.
  5. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Clare Huddlestone, Manager, Events & MacRobert Award, The Royal Academy of Engineering