An electronic chip for detecting eye infections

Dr Parwez Hossain talks with OT  about innovative technology that aims to speed up the diagnosis of sight-threatening eye infections

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Tackling the delay in diagnosing corneal infections is the focus of an innovative collaboration between University of Southampton engineers and clinicians.

A small electronic chip developed by experts at the university can instantly assess whether a patient has an eye infection.

It is hoped that eventually the technology will be able to distinguish between different types of eye infection.

University of Southampton associate professor of ophthalmology, Dr Parwez Hossain (pictured), explained that it can take days to get an outcome with current tests for corneal infections and close to half of the time the results are inconclusive.

Parwez Hussain
Dr Parwez Hossain
“The difficulty we have is that our current methods are very limited,” he shared.

“What we would ideally like is something that gives us an instant result at the bedside or chairside,” he added.

To make progress towards this scenario, clinicians applied an electronic chip that assesses the electrical properties of particles to corneal infections.

Lab tests with simulated infection revealed that the technology could work in principle.

The team is now undertaking a pilot study involving 30 patients to test the prototype device.

What we would ideally like is something that gives us an instant result at the bedside or chairside

Dr Hossain emphasised that while early results were promising, the project was very much still in the development phase.

The chip can distinguish between an infected and non-infected eye. However, it is not yet able to differentiate different types of organisms – for example, whether an infection is caused by bacteria, acanthamoeba or fungi.

“We might be able to identify pathogens in the future,” Dr Hossain said.

He expects the patient study to be completed over the next year, with the potential for a viable device to be produced within five years depending on how much industrial investment is available.

There are around 6000 cases of corneal infection each year in the UK, with a third of those related to contact lens wear.

Both in the UK and internationally, corneal infection is a leading cause of unilateral sight loss, Dr Hossain shared.

He emphasised that the most significant cause of sight loss when it comes to corneal infection is a delay in diagnosis.

“We know that the longer you wait, the worse the outcome,” he said.

Image credit: Hit and run