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Brainwave to brilliant innovation

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 01 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:0712450
  1. Geoff Watts, medical journalist1
  1. 1London

Geoff Watts enthuses about the work of Medical Futures

Lens-free ophthalmoscope

It was in the 1950s that Roger Armour, then a medical student in Lahore, began thinking about ophthalmoscopes. Why, he wondered, were they so complicated and so expensive? Couldn't these useful instruments be simpler and cheaper? Fast forward half a century and the answer is “yes.” A Cambridge company, Ophthalmos (, now makes a pocket sized, lens-free ophthalmoscope that sells for half the price of a conventional instrument. It's a direct descendant of Armour's original idea (box 1)-and the man himself, now in his 70s, is one of the company's directors.

Box 1: Lens-free ophthalmoscopy

Roger Armour's first thoughts about trying to develop a simpler ophthalmoscope were short lived. “I didn't think it was possible for someone like me without any engineering knowledge. But the idea stayed with me during my time in the NHS.” The son of an English mother and a Pakistani father, Armour moved to the UK and worked as a general and vascular surgeon, retiring from Stevenage's Lister Hospital when he was 62. It was then that a conversation with an ophthalmologist friend who'd been to Africa prompted him to get serious about the idea of a lens-free ophthalmoscope. “It took me six months to work out what to do. I then got some material from an art shop and made one. It looked such a mess I was certain it wouldn't work.” But he tried it anyway-first on his wife. “To my amazement I could see the retinal vessels in her fundus. And then I examined the cat.”

To achieve maximum simplicity and cheapness Armour has dispensed with all the non-essential parts, including the rotating set of lenses. If the user or the patient has a refractive error that might blur the image, one or other (or both) …

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