Twenty-six-year-old Yu Kelu’s father was diagnosed with glaucoma in late 2019.
Her father, 55, is constantly suffering from eye aches and headaches, as she has to visit her doctor for eye pressure tests and the pain usually lasts for days.
The pandemic also makes it a nuisance to visit hospitals frequently, being exposed to viruses, in addition to the awkward treatment process. This made Kelu want to do something about it.
Kelu is a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Through school, he then took two more students: David Lee, 26, and Li Si, 28. It was a melting pot of ideas, as all three have different educational backgrounds and each took advantage of their individual experience to find a solution.
If he is a doctoral student at the school’s Institute of Health Innovation and Technology, while David is a research engineer in the school’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
The three young inventors combined their knowledge of materials, electronics and machine learning to build an eye tracking sensor device to detect glaucoma, in the hope that it can help people with these conditions improve their lives.
They decided to call it HOPES, a ring in the name to symbolize a dream to prevent the elderly from becoming blind.
The concept worked and today (November 17) they have been announced as Singapore’s first international winner for the James Dyson Award, with the top prize of A $ 53,000 to help them improve their invention.
These winners from Singapore, Singapore’s first team in the award’s 17-year history, surpassed more than 2,000 global entries to win the top prize, and were personally selected by Sir James Dyson himself.
What is glaucoma
Glaucoma is a prevalent disease among middle-aged and elderly people, and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
Last year, some 80 million people in the world were diagnosed with glaucoma.
In Singapore, about three per cent of people over the age of 50 have this disease. Almost one in 10 people over the age of 70 has glaucoma.
Because he has largely no symptoms, he is also known as the “silent thief of sight.” There is no cure, but if diagnosed and treated early, blindness can be prevented.
“Many patients overlook the consequences of increased eye pressure and may not notice any problems before vision is lost,” Kelu, David and Si shared in an interview with Vulcan Post.
“Therefore, regular monitoring of eye pressure is necessary for the prevention and early diagnosis of glaucoma. Periodic eye pressure reviews can help slow or prevent vision loss, especially if the disease is detected in its early stages, ”they said.
Current methods for inspecting eye pressure require patients to visit the hospital every two to three hours over a 24-hour period to monitor fluctuations in eye pressure.
Sometimes, hospitalization is required, which disrupts the daily lives of patients.
“Due to the discomfort, many patients do not meet their review schedules. So we saw the need for intraocular pressure control at home for glaucoma management, ”the team said.
The creation of HOPES
Last year, Kelu and Si met with ophthalmologist Dr. Victor Koh at the National University Hospital (NUH) to learn more about the problems of glaucoma treatment and diagnosis.
Kelu and Si decided to design a portable device that could leverage their knowledge and experience in electronic skin (e-skin) and sensor technology developed at Tee Research Group to measure eye pressure. David later joined the team to help him with the work.
For the past 18 months, the team spent most of their waking hours designing, devising, and creating HOPES prototypes. They hoped to fill a gap they identified in glaucoma management: the need for a safe, non-invasive, low-cost, low-cost eye pressure sensor at home.
This device could potentially be implemented with a telemedicine platform, reducing hospital visits and the burden on health infrastructure, especially during the pandemic.
HOPES will also allow doctors to use the captured data to tailor treatment plans. The team aims to make HOPES serve many users, through a portable and accessible user experience.
After nearly a hundred iterations of the product, HOPES was born – a painless, low-cost, usable biomedical device for intraocular pressure (IOP) testing at home. Driven by patent-pending sensor technology and artificial intelligence (AI), it is a convenient device for users, especially those suffering from glaucoma, to self-monitor their IOP.
Earlier this year, student supervisor Dr. Benjamin Tee shared a newsletter about the James Dyson Award.
The team realized that the work they were doing was aligned with the goal of the award: to design an engineering solution to a problem.
Stimulated by the alignment of vision and hoping that their product can make a difference and be recognized as one that can, the young researchers decided to submit HOPES for the award.
To their delight, they beat 2,000 participants to emerge as the top winner of this international award, validating their research and showing them that it has the potential to solve problems in the real world.
How does the device work?
After creating a profile on the application of the product, the user wears the HOPES glove with the sensor placed on the fingertip, pressing it against the center of the eyelid.
The fingertip uses a unique sensor architecture that captures the dynamic pressure information of the user’s eye with less than a millisecond accuracy.
Captured signals are processed by machine learning algorithms to continuously and accurately calculate users ’eye pressure scans.
The data is transmitted via Bluetooth to paired devices or uploaded to the cloud so that doctors can access it remotely.
The app asks users for an easy-to-read measurement history and direct links to healthcare systems, allowing them to seek medical help to minimize future symptoms.
Beyond the simple and easy to use application, HOPES contains AI technology.
The team explained why artificial intelligence is needed for the product: “When we talked about the problem of glaucoma treatment with doctors and performed our own tests, we noticed that measuring eye pressure becomes more difficult when the patient has suffered some previous eye injuries, such as scars or injuries. “
“This, in addition to the differences between the textures of patients ‘eyelids, added additional complexities to our approach to measuring patients’ eye pressure. So we decided to implement AI to help solve the problem of measuring pressure. eye of the patient at the same time that we took into account the variations of the different conditions of the patient “, they said.
What’s next for HOPES
After discovering that HOPES won the James Dyson Award, a number of companies, both local and foreign venture capitalists, have approached the team who want to know more about their invention.
“It was a pleasant surprise and it offers exciting opportunities. We are open to discussions on how we can take HOPES further and make it a reality, ”the team said.
Students also have plans to work with NUH doctors to collect and analyze eye pressure data from patients to train the device’s machine learning mode.
They are currently focusing on optimizing HOPES performance, improving its design and working with local Singapore hospitals to pilot HOPES soon.
Winning the international James Dyson Award, the team said: “With this victory, we hope that in the future people will be able to measure eye pressure in a painless home environment. We want to improve people’s quality of life and we aspire to one day apply the sensor technology of our research group to different health control applications, such as robotics and biomedical devices. “
Commenting on Singapore’s victory, Sir James Dyson, Dyson’s founder and chief engineer, said: “I have experienced first-hand how invasive and unpleasant the tests for glaucoma can be, but it is a vital test.”
“This group of young people has addressed an issue that does not directly affect them, but affects their family members. Their work has the potential to make glaucoma tests much more available and I wish them every success as they navigate the difficult process of development and medical approvals, ”James said.
The James Dyson Award is administered and managed by the James Dyson Foundation, an international charity that aims to nurture and inspire a new generation of design engineers and inventors.
Dyson, as a company, is not involved in the administration of the James Dyson Award and is not engaged in the recruitment, research or further development of student inventions, Dyson said in a response to inquiries.
“Participants retain absolute ownership of any intellectual property around their ideas. The fullest support of the award is given in the form of media exposure and the exchange of external contacts who can help support your journey towards marketing, ”he added.
Featured Image Credit: James Dyson Award, NUS