Virtual reality headset fights eye diseases

Glaucoma ranks second among the causes of complete and irreversible loss of vision, while about 50% of patients might not even be aware of their disease. Glaucoma affects about 70 million people across the world, a million of them in Russia. According to experts, the number of glaucoma patients will increase to 80 million in 2020. Total Vision has developed a diagnostic device based on the Horizon VR headset, which helps diagnose glaucoma and other eye diseases earlier and more accurately than medical equipment available on the market. Diagnostic procedures can be performed remotely using telemedicine. Moscow Department of Sport and Tourism and India’s Ministry of Healthcare have shown interest in the product at the prototyping stage, project coordinator Levon Grigoryan told Invest Foresight at Startup Village.

VR-based automated perimeter

The idea of ​​installing a visual field testing function in a VR headset was suggested by the most famous eye surgeon in Russia, Professor Alexei Yermolayev from the Helmholtz Moscow Research Institute of Eye Diseases, as they are friends with Grigoryan. In 2016, Total Vision won a contract from Roscosmos to develop augmented reality goggles to support astronauts in orbit. Roscosmos needed a headset that would be harmless to astronauts, and Total Vision turned to Alexei Yermolayev for advice. This is how a portable VR-based visual field analyzer idea emerged.

A visual field analyzer, also known as automated perimeter, examines the state of a person’s peripheral vision to diagnose glaucoma, retinal dystrophy, etc. The device uses a hemispherical screen with a diameter of 60 cm, which displays dots that a person should be able to see. In those places where the sensitivity of the retina is changed, the eye does not get the signals. The blind spots detected give grounds to suspect an eye disease. Visual field analyzers are bulky and heavy (30–40 kg) and can only be used in medical offices, while the patient must sit motionless and concentrate in front of the device for several minutes. Glaucoma is an old age disease; but old people find this examination hard. So most old people or bedridden patients cannot take a vision test for glaucoma. Horizon, on the other hand, can do the diagnostics in small towns and villages through telemedicine services; this way anyone can do the test once or twice a year and a large number of potential glaucoma patients can preserve their eyesight.

The Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute is willing to test the device developed by Total Vision as it could be used to examine visual field of patients after a brain surgery. The patients are confined to bed and can’t sit next to a perimeter. The Eye Disease Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences has been testing the VR headset for a year and a half. Now it’s the turn of the Sechenov First Medical University. Total Vision’s eye disorder diagnostics device has not been approved by the Russian Healthcare Ministry yet. The company is filing for registration this December.

Unique design

A patient puts on the VR headset while holding a button. In the center of a hemispherical screen he sees a green dot on which he needs to focus. The patient is told to look directly at the dot without turning away. At the same time, he needs to respond to every signal he sees that can appear anywhere on the visual field. If the patient sees a light he must press the button. If he doesn’t see the light, he will soon be prompted by a brighter light signal in the same spot, in order to determine his retina’s photosensitivity in that area. The computer inside the device will analyze the patient’s reactions and generate a map of retina photosensitivity disorder that is very important for establishing diagnosis.

The VR headset is accompanied by a tablet that launches the software and monitors the progress of examination. It can also be used for retrieving earlier data from an archive and connecting to a cloud-based data storage. Applications of this device include fitness-for-work testing of pilots, drivers, train drivers and athletes. The headset has an embedded eye tracker that can accurately trace eye movement during examination, which increases the quality and credibility of test results. For example, Horizon can help to determine whether an athlete has a good visual grasp of the playing field as well as his response time. The Moscow Department of Sport is interested in purchasing 100 headsets. Horizon’s unique design has no current competitors in the market.

“You can’t just take a gaming VR headset and install the right software. Gaming headsets are not up to medical standards in terms of optics, hygiene, etc. A gaming headset is meant to show images and can’t perform any other function. Our headset is specifically designed for medical examination,” says Levon Grigoryan.

The cost of the device is similar to that of the existing low-band perimeters, or RUR 300,000 to 700,000 ($4,800 to $11,200) depending on functionality. 

By Natalia Keznetsova

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