Sitting in the sea of exhibits at the American Optometric Association’s 2013 conference, the 30-pound machine displayed by Freedom Meditech probably seemed pretty inconspicuous–it resembles something you would come across in an optometrist’s office, after all. But if you paid close attention, you would have noticed that the people partaking in Freedom Meditech’s demos emerged from the exhibit looking either disturbed or relieved.
That’s because the ClearPath DS-120 Lens Fluorescence Biomicroscope doesn’t measure eyesight. It instantly tells users if they have pre-diabetes or diabetes with a simple six-second eye scan, no blood draw required.
When’s the last time your doctor gave you a blood test to check for diabetes or pre-diabetes? Pre-diabetes–that’s the nebulous zone between having normal blood sugar and high blood sugar–can be present for years before full-blown diabetes takes hold. Seventy-nine million Americans aged 20 and over have pre-diabetes and most of them have no idea. That’s because half of all diabetes cases are detected only when there’s a complication.
Freedom Meditech CEO Craig Misrach thinks that the ClearPath can help solve that problem, all while offering up a new source of revenue for eye care professionals.
The device scans the eye with a blue light, measuring the intensity of light emitted by the eye. When there’s too much sugar in a patient’s body, sugar molecules start binding to proteins in the lens of the eye. A higher measurement of what’s called “lens autofluorescence” corresponds to higher levels of glucose build-up in the eye.
This is different from Google’s project to make a glucose-sensing contact lenses. These measure glucose spikes throughout the day–a measurement that’s most useful to people who are already diagnosed with diabetes. In contrast, ClearPath measures glucose as it builds up over time. The device can detect pre-diabetes up to seven years before symptoms start showing up, Misrach claims.
You probably won’t find the ClearPath in your eye doctor’s office quite yet. While the FDA-approved device is on sale, there are fewer than 100 out in the field. In the future, Misrach imagines that ClearPath scans could become part of standard eye exams or be given separately for $35 a pop.
At a cost of $34,000, the ClearPath isn’t exactly priced for poor neighborhoods, which often experience higher rates of diabetes. Misrach says that Freedom Meditech is in talks with nonprofits focused on serving these markets.”We have also done mobile screenings,” he adds.
One day, ClearPath technology could end up on your phone, or at least on a much smaller device. “We do see ourselves miniaturizing it,” says Misrach. “It could be something that improves access in third-world countries.”