iPhone is 'Eye-phone' for surgeons in India

TechOnline India - November 24, 2009

Apple's iPhone has been found to be the best mobile handset when it comes to treating an eye disease that can cause blindness in prematurely born babies.

Apple's iPhone may well be nicknamed "Eye-Phone" among pediatric eye surgeons starting off on a global endeavor to prevent an eye disease that affects thousands of prematurely born infants and can cause blindness if not swiftly treated.

It's not a feature Steve Jobs -- much less anyone -- could have envisioned, but pediatric eye (retina) surgeons in India and elsewhere say that when using tele-opthalmology to cure a disease called Retinopathy of Prematurity (RoP), they find the iPhone to be the best platform from both a security and features perspective.

"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," said Anand Vinekar, project coordinator and pediatric retinal surgeon at Narayana Nethralaya, an opthalmological institute based here.

Laboratory assistants take pictures of the retinas of prematurely born babies and transmit them via broadband to pediatric 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.

{pagebreak}"We wanted a standard platform and the iPhone proved to be the best. With other (GSM) handsets you find that different models have different features. With a Nokia for instance, you have many models which do or do not have all the features we need. So it was easy to standardize on the iPhone," Vinekar said.

The iPhone's large screen, resolution, graphics capabilities and features offered the good picture quality doctors require, and security in the form of easy-to-publish Adobe software -- which also helps to upload patient records immediately and securely, Vinekar said.

In addition to the graphics processing capabilities that the chip industry has provided through the iPhone, it is chipping in with the software used in treating RoP. This comes from i2i Telesolutions, a startup 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 unrivaled 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.


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