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Early Detection: New Device Measures Risk of Blindness from Diabetes

Jason Brooke and Abhishek Rege

Vision loss is a serious concern for those with diabetes. By the time symptoms surface, it can be too late to halt the loss of sight.

But M. Jason Brooke and Abhishek Rege, fellow alums of Johns Hopkins’ biomedical engineering graduate program, are developing technology to detect this vision loss — called diabetic retinopathy — before patients even notice what’s happening. In 2012, the pair co-founded Vasoptic Medical Inc. to put their innovation on a path toward commercialization.

Vasoptic’s laser-based technology, developed by Rege while completing a Ph.D. and postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins, allows one to look at blood vessels in tissue exposed to light. Brooke, Vasoptic’s CEO, and Rege, the startup’s chief technology officer, use it to take a series of back-of-the-eye photographs over several seconds to check for narrowing blood vessels — a condition that can be brought on by diabetes and lead to blindness.

Vasoptic’s software algorithm interprets the photo series to measure blood flow rate through these vessels over time. If the slightest restriction in blood flow is detected from an initial photo to one later in the series, the patient can be referred immediately to an eye care provider for treatment. Since diabetic retinopathy may show no symptoms or involve just mild vision impairment in its initial stages, this early detection has the potential to save patients’ vision.

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