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Local students takes international top spot in James Dyson Award for glaucoma screening eye pressure sensor

By Vijay Anand - on 20 Nov 2021, 11:51am

Local students takes international top spot in James Dyson Award for glaucoma screening eye pressure sensor

Three NUS students have become the first-ever Singapore-based international winner of the James Dyson Awards since its inception 17 years ago.

The student inventor team created a wearable biomedical device for pain-free, low-cost, in-home intra-ocular pressure (IOP) testing, which is essential for patients diagnosed with glaucoma – a condition where high fluid pressure in the eyeball damages the optic never that could lead to blindness. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and IOP is currently its only modifiable risk factor.

Spurred by doctoral student Ms Yu Kelu’s dad who suffered much discomfort and inconvenience when going for frequent eye check-ups after he started losing his vision in 2019, she was emboldened to develop a solution that was non-invasive and hassle-free way to conduct IOP testing and monitoring. Together with another doctoral student and research assistant at NUS, Mr Li Si and Mr David Lee, the team came together to develop their invention nicknamed HOPES.

The three postgraduate students behind the project - Ms Yu Kelu, 26, and Mr Li Si, 28, both doctoral students from NUS materials science and engineering department, and Mr David Lee, 26, a research assistant from the NUS electrical and computer engineering department.

The Home eye Pressure E-skin Sensor (HOPES) is a glove with sensors placed at the fingertip to conveniently and frequently self- monitor IOP. When placed against the centre of the eyelid, can capture dynamic pressure information of the eye with sub-millisecond precision. The captured signals are processed by machine learning algorithms to continuously and accurately compute the user’s IOP. Having the right sensor is one part of the equation but determining a reasonable accurate outcome from the pressure sensing on the eyelid to avoid more traditional clinic-based measurements that actually touch the cornea of the eye is a big step forward. Part of the solution was also thanks in part to using machine learning algorithms to fast-track and help the system determine the desired outcome to be as accurate as possible.

Ms Yu Kelu, demonstrating the use of HOPES, a pressure-sensitive fingertip on the glove that captures pressure information on the eye accurately in a non-invasive manner.

Data is then transmitted via Bluetooth to paired devices or uploaded to the cloud to be accessed remotely by clinicians. The app prompts users with easy-to-read measurement history and direct links to healthcare systems, allowing them to seek medical help to minimise future symptoms.

For their win, they will receive S$53,000 in prize money to help further the development of their invention. Their university will also receive S$8,800 in recognition of their win.

I’ve experienced first-hand how invasive and unpleasant the tests for glaucoma can be, but it is a vital test. This group of young people have tackled a problem that doesn’t affect them directly, but which affects members of their family. Their work has the potential to make glaucoma testing much more widely available and I wish them every success as they navigate the challenging process of further development and medical approvals. - Sir James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.

Sir James Dyson himself broke the happy news to the winning team who were of course beyond ecstatic.

The team plans to collaborate with clinicians at the National University Hospital to collect and analyse patients’ eye pressure data to train the device’s machine learning mode. At the same time, they are working on optimising HOPES’ performance and improving its design, such as reducing the form factor of the processing system to something no larger than a smartwatch and thus making HOPES a more accessible option. To find out more, The Straits Times has a video story of the team's journey here.

A close-up of the Home eye Pressure E-skin Sensor (HOPES) device in its current form which the team hopes to miniaturize the system further and make it even more accessible.

The James Dyson Award is an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. It's open to current and recent design engineering students and is run by the James Dyson Foundation, James Dyson’s charitable trust, as part of its mission to get young people excited about design engineering.

Last year, two NUS graduates bagged National Winner of the 2020 James Dyson Award with their high-tech wearable knee rehabilitation device dubbed KIMIA Rehab kit. Interestingly, our Editor-in-Chief, Vijay Anand, was part of the local James Dyson Awards judging panel along with other prominent members such as co-founder and Group CEO of Catcha Group, Patrick Grove, and Roll-Royce President of SEA and South Korea, Bicky Bhangu. The KIMIA Rehabit kit went on to become the Top 20 on the international shortlist.

Source: James Dyson Awards, and further reporting at Straits Times.

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