What started as an idea for a research project could now stop more people from going blind before it's too late.
A team of University of Virginia entrepreneurs is $20,000 richer on Saturday. The students won the 2nd annual Entrepreneurship Cup for a camera they developed to help doctors catch eye diseases in their patients before it's too late.
Ken Tran and his group beat out hundreds of other student teams to win the cash prize, and it's money he says will partially help start a business selling hand held cameras that can help stop blindness before it starts.
Tran said, "It basically allows you to take a picture of your retina, the back of the eye." The hand held lens attaches to just about any consumer grade camera. It allows doctors to affordably screen their patients that suffer from diabetes for eye related diseases.
Tran said, "Eventually, if you don't get treated on time, you actually end up going blind because your retina detaches, and this let's you detect signs of it before it comes too late." The technology itself isn't new. For years, doctors have been using a much larger machine that does the exact same thing, except it sits on a counter and costs $90,000.
However, it only cost Tran's team $1,000 to build the camera. Right now, the larger model is too big and expensive to make its way into the offices of many primary care physicians. Tran's professor hopes this new, less expensive model will make screening for eye diseases more common.
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology Paul Andrew Yates said, "Patients that have diabetes, roughly over their lifetime, somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of them will develop eye diseases as a result of that, and the problem is, it is silent. There are no symptoms involved with it until you've actually started to lose vision."
What started as an idea for a research project could now stop more people from going blind before it's too late. The next step for the project is to have the camera approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That could take between six months and a year.