Eye test tailored to young children receives substantial funding

10 September 2015

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has announced an investment of almost $1 million over two years into the development of a device to enable early detection of vision problems through fast and accurate eye testing.

Portrait of Jason Turuwhenua

Have you ever taken a pre-schooler for eye testing? Those who have will know how hard it can be. Very young children often have neither the attention span to sit through the test, nor the language to describe what they see.

To address this problem, Dr Jason Turuwhenua of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and the School of Optometry and Vision Science is leading an international group of researchers in developing a new computer-based vision test suitable for use with children as young as 2-years old.

The result will be a device that can be used to rapidly and accurately test vision in young children to allow for the early detection of vision problems. Eye problems can affect aspects of brain development and the development of fine control over arm and hand movement, with consequences for the child throughout their education and later life. As many of the eye problems that affect young children can be treated effectively - if they are detected early - the potential impact of this device at both individual and societal level is considerable.

The test is simple and easy to use; carefully designed moving patterns are shown to the child that cause a reflexive, involuntary movement of the eyes if the child is able to see the pattern. This eye movement is recorded with a video camera attached to a computer, and the software they are developing will identify whether the child is able to see the pattern or not, and measure how well the child can see. The device is intended to be portable, to allow for use in school screenings and before-school checks in pre-schools, as well as in eye-care clinics.

The project is a multi-institutional and international partnership between the University of Auckland, the Retina Foundation of the Southwest (United States), the University of Waterloo (Canada), Callaghan Innovation and the National Institute of Health Innovation.

Work to date has been supported by the University of Auckland’s Faculty Research Development Fund, the Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence, and Uniservices, the commercial arm of the University of Auckland. The funding of $1 million over two years from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will enable Dr Turuwhenua’s group to develop the technology and perform clinical tests in ophthalmology and optometry clinics in New Zealand and internationally.


Related links:

Dr Jason Turuwhenua's profile

Project partners:

Information about other University of Auckland projects to receive MBIE funding is available on the University website.