More than a window to the soul, the eye can tell us an unbelievable amount about the health of our bodies too. But modern medicine has yet to unlock the full power of the eye. Current methods to assess them are invasive and uncomfortable, so we often rely on other ways to monitor and screen for chronic health conditions. But for Occuity, that’s not enough – the opportunity of the eye is too great to miss out on. After spending many hours in his garage, co-founder of Occuity and serial inventor Robin Taylor formed the beginnings of a solution to this problem. Now, he and the team have landed on something game-changing: hand-held devices that don’t need to touch the body at all that make assessing the eye easier and safer, opening up endless healthcare possibilities.
Occuity is passionate about putting medicine into the hands of people. They create handheld devices which are super easy to use. By doing that, they hope to get medical devices out of the way and focus purely on people’s health. The team is currently carrying out a clinical trial for the PM1 Pachymeter. They have scores of volunteers having their eyes measured using a bunch of different techniques to compare the measurements from ultrasound pachymeters, which make contact with the eye, with their own device, which is non-contacting, handheld, and pain-free. They hope to prove that their device is as accurate and precise as the competition to give people confidence that they’re able to take exactly the same measurement with the same quality – but without all of the downsides of the existing competitors.
Occuity is using the eye as a window to the health of the body to develop solutions to some of humanity’s greatest healthcare challenges; things such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even things such as myopia. The PM1 Pachymeter, their first-ever product, measures corneal central thickness. It’s a simple, L-shaped device that charges wirelessly in a charging cradle. To operate, hold it up a few centimeters away from the patient, the patient looks down the barrel, and within a few seconds, it records a measurement. Occuity’s Mechanical Engineer Jamie Serjeant says, “It looks like an object from the future. It’s super glossy and sleek. The first impression is you pick it up, this is a device that feels good to use. You can see we’ve got this lovely bezel on the front as well, so it kind of references camera vernacular. We hope it will be a bit like owning a lovely DSLR and people will become fond of it.”
Glaucoma is a common eye condition that involves a build-up of fluid in the front of the eye and it puts pressure on the optic nerve and can lead to long-term site damage. One in two people are living with glaucoma unknowingly and don’t know they’ve got it. The PM1 Pachymeter is a device that measures the corneal thickness of the eye: an important measurement when you’re trying to diagnose glaucoma. Occuity is also involved in a project to measure glucose non-invasively through the eye. Indigo is their concept for a handheld, portable, non-invasive blood glucose monitor which aims to give people independence. They don’t have to draw blood anymore. They can take these devices with them wherever they go. They simply hold it up to their eye and it shines a low-powered beam of light, and the signal that it sends back infers what the blood glucose level is.
“One of the personal motivations that led me to Occuity is the fact that my dad is diabetic,” says Jamie. “I have grown up seeing him fingerpick and draw blood five times a day minimum, and I’ve seen his insulin dependency progress. Through all of this, what I’ve seen is that the instruments that we have, or that we used to have in our house were barbaric.” Jamie’s father used to draw so much blood that the ends of his fingers would become numb, and his sensitivity was vastly weakened. This isn’t unique to him. “If you ask any diabetic, they will all report the same thing. They hate having to draw blood through their fingers to measure their blood glucose multiple times a day,” he said. “If we can come up with the device that we think we can, which can measure blood glucose, non-invasively, through the eye – a unique device, and nothing like it exists in the world – that will be completely game-changing for people.”
Occuity isn’t the first company to try and make a non-invasive blood glucose monitor. This is the holy grail. Everyone wants to be able to ship a product that can do this, but no one has succeeded. Why haven’t people succeeded? “Well, one of the big reasons is that everyone’s trying to look through the skin,” Jamie explained. “The problem is, skin is a very diffuse and difficult medium to see through. What we’re doing with Indigo, which is unique, is we’re looking through the eye itself. By looking through the eye, which is optically clear, we can detect very, very tiny changes in the properties of the eye. And using that, we can work out what someone’s blood glucose is.”
Also in development is the AX1 Axiometer, a device that measures the length of the eyeball from the front to the back, for the myopia management market. Myopia is a huge problem. By 2050, an estimated 50% of the world’s population will suffer from myopia. Being short-sighted isn’t necessarily a problem in its own right. What is a problem is the growth of the eyeball. The AX1 measures axial length to help give treatments that can slow down the progression of myopia. The company was told just a few months ago that a hand-held axial length device wasn’t something that we would be able to do, so their CTO Robin Taylor locked himself in his garage and produced an early prototypes for the AX1 device, which enabled him to get a handheld version ready to start progressing and testing. Nothing like this exists on the market today. To have a hand-held axial length meter that makes no contact with the eye and takes a reading super quickly is completely game-changing.
Occuity’s “wall of plastic” in their Reading headquarters shows their various prototypes and is a visual representation of how they have developed their various devices. From a “hairdryer-looking thing” which was their first-ever corded handheld pachymeter to their fully hand-held, non-contact, non-tethered prototype, the journey goes from beige 3D-printed enclosures and vacuum-cast enclosures to a sleeker, more mature injection-molded enclosure made from custom white polycarbonate, which they developed with a partner in Germany.
The company also has its FLF Project, which stands for Future Leaders Fellowship, made possible through a £1.4m grant from Innovate UK. “These guys are doing some really exciting stuff at the cutting edge of optical design,” said Jamie. “They’re looking into the eye to see what we can see, not setting any kind of boundaries. They’re doing high-end imaging of the eye to capture all the data we can, to see if we can investigate other diseases in the future.” Using a pulsed supercontinuum laser, which produces very short pulses of light that are in the picosecond range, producing pulses from the visible spectrum into the infrared. They’re also working on experimental R&D concepts which could have interesting ramifications for disease screening and monitoring.
Jamie says that one of the things the team loves about turning up for work is that they know that every day they come into work, they know they will be working on something “super impactful”. “We know that, as soon as we come through those doors, not only are we going to be working with a great team, but we’re going to be working on technologies that no one has done before, we’re going to be working on devices that don’t exist yet. That motivation is really powerful.” Knowing that, in the future, these devices can make their way out into the field, he says, is “really motivating”.
One of the things that Occuity is already doing is to apply machine learning techniques to the data that they get back from the eye. Through this data, they can spot patterns and start to apply the technology to whole new categories of devices. One of the innovations that they are looking into at the moment is using blood flow at the back of the eye as a proxy for brain blood flow, which could reveal all sorts of information about the state of a patient. In the future, they hope their technology can measure many more things about patients, and they’re already having discussions around Alzheimer’s, sepsis, and potentially even cholesterol levels. “I think the future of medicine is already going in the direction of being patient led, said Jamie. “It’s not good enough for medical devices just to be made in isolation. It’s not good enough for them to just be made for clinicians. We get better patient outcomes with devices that are designed with patients in mind.”
Occuity is a new user of Onshape, the world’s first and only truly cloud-native CAD and PDM system. It offers a modern approach to product design and collaboration. Onshape allows engineers, designers, manufacturers, and supply chains to create, edit, share, and manage release 3D models, drawings, and simulation results renderings in real-time from any device and location without the need for any special hardware, software installations, worries about versions, etc. It’s more powerful than traditional systems and eliminates all the hassles of traditional systems.
One of the main reasons why Onshape is so easy to set up is we’re entirely cloud native. This means there’s no software to install, maintain or upgrade. All you need is a web browser and an internet connection on any kind of computer – you don’t even need a computer. You can use a mobile phone, tablet, iPhone, iPad, or Android, and start using Onshape right away. This approach eliminates the need for wasted extra IT resources, hardware investments and worries, and software installations which can be time-consuming and costly. And in today’s world, those things are an obstacle to changing who’s on your team quickly – your supply chain, your employees, or contractors, whatever. You need to be able to move fast, and Onshape enables that.
Joint Innovation is key to Occuity. They value being at the forefront of technology and achieving a greater position to lead a revolution in their particular market in their field. Onshape helps them to spend more time on design innovation. Onshape has extremely fast and live version control and collaboration, design review – all that happens almost instantly – so it lets companies work more quickly and be more agile. This means that they work and collaborate in real-time. Another key aspect is that everyone on the team, no matter where they are, no matter what device they’re on, can see their other team members working on the same design simultaneously.
This feature eliminates the need for time-wasting file transfers, and for old-fashioned complex version control like locking and checkout, and manual updates. All the changes in design are updated instantly across all team members, no matter what device they’re on. This live version control means that for every edit you make you can go back to, so it’s easy to track changes, it’s so easy to go back to previous versions, and collaborate on different versions, that people “design fearlessly”. Teams that want to move fast, and try ideas, they’ll just make that change. They’re not worried about overwriting a version or having to go through some complicated locking and checkout.
Another key aspect of Onshape is instant collaboration cues and commenting. Its reviewing system allows people to add comments; to see who’s in the document, and then add comments, and those comments and suggestions and markups are right in the context of the design at that moment. This feature means everyone is collaborating and communicating very effectively. It’s not just about creating the shape. It’s about testing, refining, rendering, and manufacturing. And Onshape has a third-party partner network that can also put data in that can be managed and collaborated. All those benefits of Onshape’s core platform accrue to all aspects of testing and refining designs.
Thanks to Jon and to Richard and Jamie for showing us around Occuity’s headquarters.
Please rate, review and subscribe to our bi-weekly Third Angle episodes wherever you listen to your podcasts and follow PTC on LinkedIn and Twitter for future episodes.
This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Ollie Guillou. Recording by Neil Kanwal. And music by Rowan Bishop.