Thursday 21 September 2017

Dubliner's medtech in focus to save eyesight

Dr Josh Hogan's imaging technology is building on its success in biometrics

People with diabetes, who are at risk of diabetic retinopathy and others at risk of macular degeneration, usually visit their optometrist every month for a test to detect a change in the thickness of their retinas. (stock image)
People with diabetes, who are at risk of diabetic retinopathy and others at risk of macular degeneration, usually visit their optometrist every month for a test to detect a change in the thickness of their retinas. (stock image)

John Reynolds

Irish-founded and backed biometric technology business Compact Imaging plans to use its advanced medical imaging technology to reduce sight loss from macular degeneration and diabetes.

The firm was co-founded in 2003 by Dublin-born UCD graduate and physicist Dr Josh Hogan and is backed by a number of Irish investors, including US-based Irish serial entrepreneur and tech investor John Ryan, as well as the Galway University Foundation and the University of Limerick Foundation, which have small stakes.

To date, the firm has raised around €8m from a group of 24 angel investors plus the two universities. Among its advisors are Prof Martin Leahy at NUI Galway - where groundbreaking research and scientists have been instrumental to its success - and James L Taylor, a former ceo of Carl Zeiss Meditec, a medtech business.

It is talking with potential partners about commercialising the technology, which will likely result in it being incorporated in devices that look similar to virtual reality goggles, ceo Don Bogue said.

People with diabetes, who are at risk of diabetic retinopathy and others at risk of macular degeneration, usually visit their optometrist every month for a test to detect a change in the thickness of their retinas.

However, Compact Imaging's technology would see them use low-cost goggles at home every day.

These devices will record a result and upload it over the internet for the specialist to review. This will save time for both the patient and the specialist as neither will need to attend appointments unless there has been a change, the company claims, resulting in cost and efficiency savings for healthcare systems.

It will also enable any problems to be detected earlier, at which point medical intervention may be able to save people's vision, Bogue added.

The number of people with age-related macular degeneration is forecast to reach 196million by 2020, rising to 288m in 2040, according to research published in The Lancet medical journal.

The numbers at risk of diabetic retinopathy are even greater, with 145m people, out of 415m diabetics having some form of it in 2015. This is projected to rise to 215m out of 642m by 2040, according to figures from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

The plans have emerged after the company recently became a partner with Stanford University R&D offshoot SRI International in a €10m ($12.5m) contract awarded by IARPA in the US, the advanced R&D wing of its intelligence agencies.

The partnership involves the firm building on its cost and size advantages in multiple reference optical coherence tomography (OCT), considered the world's fastest growing medical imaging technology.

It will apply this to next generation biometric security - fingerprint scanning - for identity authentication. The technology will be incorporated in small, low-cost devices and works by being able to detect deeper fingerprints, known as sub-dermal ones, by looking at the tiny blood vessels that make up the fingerprint, where changes in heart rate, sweating and blood flow can be seen.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, in 2015 the US Customs and Border Protection Agency processed nearly 400 million people entering the US, of whom almost 40 million required a secondary inspection because of suspicious behaviour or adverse information in the primary screening process when their fingerprints were scanned.

Prof Leahy said: "The security of personal data is a pressing global concern as we are using fingerprints for everything from phone unlocking to security checks.

"Technology developed at NUI Galway is supporting businesses and governments to verify identities more rigorously to make our personal data more secure."

Bogue emphasised the advantages the company has found in working with Prof Leahy at NUI Galway and the availability of PhD researchers to work on its technology, in contrast with Silicon Valley, where it is headquartered.

He said: "For the last two years I've served on the Industry Advisory Board at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, a Science Foundation Centre of Excellence that brings together the data analytics research capabilities of DCU, NUIG, UCD and UCC.

"Serving on this board has provided a great opportunity for us, as a small and still emerging company, to get into the room with world-class data analytics scientists and researchers, as well as strong commercial players, such as Cisco, IBM, Intel and others.

"In the fields of both biometric security and medical monitoring, these connections ultimately will prove invaluable."

Sunday Indo Business

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