MIT spinout PlenOptika has developed a highly accurate, portable autorefractor called QuickSee that measures refractive errors of the eye. More affordable than the current technology, the device has potential to reach patients in previously inaccessible areas of developing countries. Credit: PlenOptika

A new portable eye test could help patients in inaccessible regions get better care.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created QuickSee, a highly accurate, portable autorefractor that measures refractive errors of the eye and produces estimated prescriptions in about 10 seconds.

The new technology could be particularly beneficial for patients in previously inaccessible areas of developing counties.

“People at the bottom of the pyramid have poor vision, because they don’t have glasses or aren’t aware of how to get glasses,” Shivang Dave, one of four former postdocs at the Madrid-MIT M+Visión Consortium (now called MIT LinQ), said in a statement. “It’s a big unmet medical need we’re trying to address.”

The researchers, who are part of the MIT spinout PlenOptika, have been working for six years through eight product iterations and numerous clinical studies, examining 1,500 patents across five countries before finally developing the finished product.  QuickSee has already hit the market in India.

In a 708-patient study conducted in 2015 with an early prototype, about 85 percent of patients saw with 20/20 vision after being given glasses using the device’s measurement, compared to 91 percent of those who were tested using the optometrist-based gold-standard method.

Traditional autorefractors are large, heavy and stationary machines that can cost up to $15,000. They detect reflections from infrared light shone through the eye to determine the size and shape of a ring at the back of the eye and provide a baseline for corrective lens prescriptions.

While portable autorefractors also exist, they are often inaccurate and expensive.

The new device used a modified version of a wavefront aberrometer—an advanced device used to map the eye prior to LASIK surgery.

In QuickSee, light is shone into the eye, reflected off the retina and then measured after it passes back through the eye’s lens and cornea.

Distortions in the light waves, called aberrations will show specific vision problems, including nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatisms.

The actual device looks similar to a pair of large binoculars, where users peer into the viewing end and stare at an object in the distance.

A technician taps a green arrow on a digital screen on the device to start the measurement and in about 10 seconds, the device displays a prescription estimate on the digital screen.

QuickSee can measure both eyes at once, while only costing about a third of the price of traditional autorefractors.

Unlike traditional autorefractors that require the operator to manually align each eye to take a measurement, the QuickSee constantly captures data from a patient’s eye, rapidly determining when to capture a measurement and reducing training barriers for technicians.

“Your eye is always changing, and we have to know when it’s in the right state to take a measurement,” Dave said.

Another difference between the new product and traditional devices is that the researchers designed QuickSee so people could actually look through the viewer to focus on a real object far away.

According to the researchers, more than two billion people worldwide do not have access to corrective lenses, particularly in developing countries.

Optometrists are generally located in urban centers and rarely see patients from rural areas, so many people suffer from uncorrected impairments.