They’re only two centimetres tall but we rely on them for so much – our eyes are also a barometer of our health. Now the award-winning Scottish company Optos plc has opened a special display at London’s Science Museum, raising the curtain on an image we rarely see – the back of our eyes. Visitors to the museum’s Wellcome Wing can look inside a huge model eye and learn how Optos has revolutionised retinal scanning technology.

Optos won the £50,000 Royal Academy of Engineering 2006 MacRobert Award for its proprietary scanning laser ophthalmoscope technology - the Panoramic200. For the first time it is now possible to image right across the retina in one go. Panoramic200 takes a high resolution image – an optomap® Retinal Exam – of up to 82 per cent of the retina in a single capture, compared with conventional examination techniques which can only typically capture less than 5% at one time. The Optos scanning laser system does not require pupil dilation and takes just a quarter of a second. It can even scan through cataracts, which tend to scatter white light, because it uses two separate low-power lasers that operate at different wavelengths.

The Optos system is also ideal for scanning children’s eyes – and is designed to be so. Douglas Anderson founded the company in 1992 after his son Leif went blind in one eye after suffering a detached retina at the age of five. Although Leif was having regular eye examinations, the procedure was uncomfortable, especially for a child, which made it impossible for the doctor to view the entire retina – and particularly the edge, which detaches first. Anderson set out to develop a patient-friendly retinal image product that might protect other families from unnecessary and avoidable vision loss. Leif himself named the company Optos after the Greek word for vision.

Wide-field retinal imaging quickly diagnoses holes and detachments, which if referred quickly can often be treated successfully. It also gives early warning of several serious eye disorders that can be treated if caught early, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

“The back of the eye is the only place in the body where you can inspect the health of the vascular system without an invasive procedure,” says Alastair Atkinson, Global Product Director at Optos. “Tiny traces of cholesterol accumulating in retinal vessels are known to be a precursor to a stroke. Diabetes causes abnormalities in the small blood vessels of the retina and bleeding in the eye may be the first sign that a person has the disease. It stands to reason that the greater the area of the retina that can be seen, the better the standard of healthcare.”

Notes for editors

  1. Douglas Anderson, Alastair Atkinson and David Cairns received a £50,000 cheque between them plus the gold MacRobert medal for their company from the Academy’s Senior Fellow, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace on 16 June 2006.
  2. 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.
  3. Optos plc is a leading and rapidly growing medical technology company for the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of devices that image the retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye. Optos’ platform technology is the Panoramic200 Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope device - known as the P200. In a quarter of a second the P200 device produces a high resolution image of up to 200 degrees or approximately 82 percent of the retina in a single capture. The image - branded the optomap® Retinal Exam - provides eye care practitioners with clinically useful information that facilitates the early detection of disorders and diseases evidenced in the retina, such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

    The Company has recently gained regulatory clearance (CE and FDA 510(k)) to market a second device - P200MA. The P200MA is aimed at the specialist ophthalmic and medical as opposed to the primary care market. It is designed to produce an angiographic retinal image called optomap® fa that supports medical procedures by providing enhanced diagnostic, monitoring and treatment capabilities. Retinal imaging can also indicate evidence of non-eye or systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers. Optos’ technology provides an unequalled combination of wide-field retinal imaging, speed and convenience for both practitioner and patient and can help save sight and save lives.

    Optos estimates that its P200 device is targeting a recurring US$2 billion market opportunity. As at 30 September 2006 Optos had 232 employees serving more than 2,500 customers in the Company’s existing markets, currently the USA, Canada, UK and Germany. Optos plc is headquartered in Dunfermline, Scotland and was admitted to the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange on 15 February 2006 trading under the symbol OPTS.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering