North East Connected

Durham Inventor Seeks Production Partner for new device

A DURHAM optometrist turned inventor is looking for a production partner to manufacture a new device to solve the problem of taking accurate eye measurements of children with Down’s Syndrome.

Conventional eye testing equipment to measure focusing ability sits close to the face and encourages children to look directly at a target so the optometrist can take the measurement. An inability to hold close focus is known as an accommodative lag. It is more common in children with Down’s Syndrome, who often have learning difficulties and find it hard to concentrate on the target for long enough to get an accurate reading.

Family optometrist Simon Berry, who specialises in children’s eye care at his practice in Gilesgate, Durham, and also works at Sunderland Eye Infirmary as a Specialist Optometrist, felt there was a gap in the market for something more engaging to hold their attention whilst taking the clinical measurements.

“Current devices record measurements slightly off-axis, and if the child is not interested in the target it compounds the problem,” said Simon.

“Children with special needs often have difficulty engaging in the eye test enough to obtain an accurate reading.  I felt there had to be a way around the problem.”

Simon approached Durham University’s Physics and Engineering departments and worked with final year engineering students Matt Grozier and Fred Noble, who used 3D printing technology to produce his prototype in just two weeks.

It works by using mirrors and glass to act as a mini cinema screen so the child can look at familiar pictures such as their favourite TV characters, pictures of their own pets or any other image or video that the parent knows will hold their attention. The parent’s own mobile phone can even be attached to the back to provide the images, and the result is that the patient looks directly into the device long enough for the optician to get an accurate, on-axis measurement so the right prescription can be created.  

The prototype has been endorsed by Dr Margaret Woodhouse OBE, senior lecturer and optometrist at Cardiff University and a leading specialist in the visual development of children with Down’s Syndrome, who believes it could solve a real issue in the children’s eye care sector.

The technology has been tested with help from Special iApps, an educational app developer for children with special educational needs.

“It has been a very exciting process and the expertise of Durham University, and the help from Special iApps has been invaluable,” added Simon.

“Matt and Fred were quick to understand and address the issues involved, and used the University’s world-class facilities and the expert knowledge of colleagues in the Physics and Engineering departments to produce the prototype in a very short time span.

“There are around 12,500 optometrists and eye departments in the UK, so the market for this is very healthy. Even at this stage we have had interest from a number of sources, and we are now looking for a production partner to help us take it to market.”

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