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India surgeons tap iPhone to prevent blindness

Posted: 26 Nov 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:iPhone  India RoP project  broadband 

Paediatric eye surgeons may nickname Apple's iPhone as the "Eye-Phone" due to its usage in tele-opthalmology. The surgeons are kicking off a global endeavour to prevent blindness in prematurely born infants by the swiftly treatment of the eye disease known as Retinopathy of Prematurity (RoP).

It's not a feature Steve Jobs or anyone else could have easily envisioned. However, paediatric eye surgeons in India and elsewhere find that the iPhone's security and features makes it the best platform to be used in tele-opthalmology to cure RoP.

Anand Vinekar, project coordinator and paediatric retinal surgeon at Narayana Nethralaya, an opthalmological institute based in Bangalore says, "Some babies born underweight are likely to be affected by RoP, which though curable, must be acted upon in a matter of days to prevent irreversible blindness. This is especially a problem in countries such as India and those of a similar socio-economic nature, where lack of adequate facilities, long distances, illiteracy and low accessibility to quality healthcare cause thousands of children to become blind every year."

Laboratory assistants take pictures of the retinas of prematurely born babies and transmit them via broadband to paediatric eye surgeons, who could be hundreds or thousands of miles away.

These surgeons, using iPhones, enlarge the images and using the iPhone's graphics capabilities determine whether the baby needs immediate help.

Need for common platform
The iPhone addressed the need of a standard platform. The drawback with other GSM handsets is that every model has different features some useful, some not. The iPhone's large screen, resolution, graphics processing capabilities and features offers the good picture quality required by doctors. Security in the form of easy-to-publish Adobe software enabling easy and secure upload of patient records. Hence the surgeons standardised on the iPhone Vinekar explained.

The additional software used in treating RoP comes from i2i Telesolutions, a start-up launched by an ex-Texas Instruments India executive, Sham Banerji. Banerji led the team that developed the first DSP in India while at TI in Bangalore.

"The iPhone's pinch-and-drag capabilities, apart from its amazing resolution, are unrivalled in other phone models and the surgeons therefore decided that this is best-suited for this kind of application," Banerji said.

In India alone, thousands of children go blind every year. These numbers could fall as a result of efforts by Vinekar and others like him, along with the help of the government.

Currently, Vinekar, with surgeons such as Anna Ills of Calgary, Canada, are joining with regional governments and non-governmental bodies to use the broadband and the iPhone to fight blindness in newborns everywhere in the world.

- K.C Krishnadas
Site Editor, TechOnline India

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