When five-year-old Leif Anderson’s eyesight began to deteriorate, his father Douglas saw at first hand the shortcomings of eye-imaging tools. They required the patient to sit still for long periods with uncomfortable, coloured eye drops, something that was hard for his distressed son. The discovery of a retinal tear came too late to stop the boy going blind in one eye.
Anderson, who ran his own industrial design firm, put his team to work to devise a better examination tool. The result is the Optomap Exam, which uses two low-powered lasers to scan the retina at the back of the eye in a quarter of a second, without needing eye drops. The resulting image can be displayed instantly and sent by e-mail to a specialist to analyse.
Anderson founded Dunfermline- based Optos Retinal in 1992 to launch the method around the world.
The company says 630 machines have been installed and more than a million patients in Britain and America have benefited from the Optomap Exam. The machines cost more than £70,000 each. Optos gives them to hospitals and surgeries and charges a fee of about £25 each time they are used. Sales have rocketed 320% a year from £209,000 in 2000 to £3.7m in 2002.
Optos has raised £30m of funding and is 70% owned by business angels, including Brian Souter of Stagecoach, and the venture-capital firms Amadeus and Vertical Group. Although the company has reported significant losses, due to development costs, it expects sales to nearly triple this year and hopes to break even by the middle of next year.
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