Chris Pirie: Solving Unmet Need

Expanding access to ophthalmic imaging

While treating patients at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Chris Pirie discovered that he no longer had the proper equipment for assessing the health of the back of an animal’s eye. The Foster Hospital has a fundus camera to monitor progression of eye disease, but recent advances in digital photography had rendered the instrument obsolete.

Instead of replacing the camera at a hefty price tag of $30,000, Chris Pirie designed a new imaging adaptor that would work with conventional single lens reflex (SLR) cameras.  After two years of work Pirie had a prototype that produces crystal-clear images and has the potential to revolutionize digital imaging of the eye in humans as well as animals.  In place of a table-mounted fundus camera, Pirie proposes an adaptor that can be attached to any digital SLR camera.  The adaptor upgrades digital cameras that most veterinary ophthalmologists own already, offering enormous flexibility and diagnostic capability at a reasonable cost.

Answering a medical need

More than 1 billion people each year experience symptoms associated with eye disease. However, only 25% of the world’s population has reliable access to professional eye services and only 10% seek these services regularly, leading to a significant unmet need in the eye treatment market.  Pirie’s new adaptor may someday allow patients who lack access to an ophthalmologist to be monitored for eye problems. With the adaptor, primary-care physicians could use their own digital cameras to photograph a patient’s eyes and email the images to a consulting ophthalmologist.

Detection of the most common eye conditions—including cataracts and diabetic retinopathy—involves anterior and posterior imaging of the eye. The fundus camera is currently the most commonly used diagnostic device.  However, the prohibitively high price of the device—upwards of $30,000—limits patient access in rural areas and underdeveloped countries.

Pirie’s new adaptor has the potential to drastically cut the cost of ownership for an imaging device for common eye diseases. The adaptor can take digital images of the iris, lens, and cornea at the front of the eye, and the retina at the back.  Should a patient need access to remote treatment, these images can be shared electronically with specialists.  A complete camera adaptor is expected to cost about $1,000.

The diagnostic capabilities of the new adaptor are more sensitive than those of the fundus camera, and the adaptor can be used to evaluate cataracts and corneal problems.  Key differentiators of the adaptor are that it is portable, lightweight, and inexpensive, and it allows for both anterior and posterior fluorescein angiography—a diagnostic option now available only with high-end retinal cameras.

Steps to commercialization

Pirie came to Tufts Tech Transfer to help realize the commercial potential of his invention. The office has filed for patent protection and is now identifying investors to advance the prototype. Pirie has received approval from the Cummings School’s Clinical Science Review Committee and is using his device to treat patients at the Foster Hospital.

Pirie may become one of Tufts University’s “serial inventors.”  He has three or four additional ideas that he would like to pursue—all with the goal of creating less expensive imaging alternatives and expanding patient access to professional eye services.