NUS team named James Dyson Award International Winner for bringing ‘HOPES’ to glaucoma patients
A team of young inventors from NUS Engineering is making a big step forward in bringing new ‘HOPES’ to glaucoma patients. Their wearable device, called Home Eye Pressure E-skin Sensor, or HOPES, which is designed for safe, accurate, pain-free and low cost intraocular pressure (IOP) monitoring at home, has been selected as one of three global winners for the prestigious James Dyson Award this year.
This is the first time in the Award’s 17-year history that a team from Singapore has emerged as the international winner.
The James Dyson Award is an annual international design competition, aimed at encouraging aspiring engineers and inventors to apply their knowledge and discover new ways to solve problems, improve lives through technology and change the world.
The winning design, HOPES, combines an electronic skin (e-skin) sensor technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to offer a convenient method for users to self-monitor IOP at home. This invention was first selected as a Singapore National Winner and subsequently shortlisted into the International Top 20 among 83 national finalists from 28 countries and regions. The Top 20 entries were personally reviewed by Sir James Dyson who crowned HOPES as this year’s International Winner. The award is given out by the James Dyson Foundation, the charitable arm of the firm.
“I’ve experienced first-hand how invasive and unpleasant the tests for glaucoma can be, but it is a vital test. This group of young people have tackled a problem that doesn’t affect them directly, but which affects members of their family. Their work has the potential to make glaucoma testing much more widely available and I wish them every success as they navigate the challenging process of further development and medical approvals,” said Sir James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.
As the international winner, the NUS team will receive £30,000, and they intend to develop the project further with the funds.
Professor Aaron Thean, Dean of NUS Engineering, said, “Being named global winners of the James Dyson Award is an exceptional achievement for Team HOPES and we are immensely proud of them. Their invention, as well as the personal inspiration and motivation that went into creating the HOPES device, exemplify our aspiration to bring technological impact through the integration of creative design, engineering ingenuity, and deep appreciation of human and societal needs. We wish the team every success with furthering the HOPES device and bringing it to market.”
HOPES is developed by Ms Yu Kelu and Mr Li Si, who are both doctoral students from NUS Materials Science and Engineering Institute for Health Innovation & Technology, as well as Mr David Lee, a Research Engineer at NUS Materials Science and Engineering. The team is mentored by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee from NUS Materials Science and Engineering.
“We are thrilled that HOPES has been selected as the international winner of this year’s James Dyson Award, and we are deeply honoured to be the first team from Singapore to win this title in Award’s 17-year history. During the development process, we had to overcome multiple challenges to develop a lightweight and portable home-use device that provides accurate measurements of IOP non-intrusively. This Award will enable us to further improve HOPES to benefit glaucoma patients in Singapore and globally,” Ms Yu.
Asst Prof Tee, the team’s mentor, said, “The James Dyson Award is an excellent platform for young engineers and designers to showcase and turn great ideas into products that can make a difference to society. Our research group’s motto is to create groundbreaking technologies that impact lives positively. I am honoured by the international recognition and proud of what the student team has achieved through HOPES. I look forward to the day it will be used by millions of people.”
HOPES – A patient-centric solution
The idea of creating HOPES was motivated by the team’s desire to find a way to help Ms Yu’s father who was diagnose with glaucoma in December 2019. Glaucoma is a condition where high fluid pressure in the eyeball damages the optic nerve, which can cause blindness. There is currently no cure for this condition.
As part of his treatment plan, the 54-year-old Mr Yu had to visit the hospital every two to three months to ensure that his eyes’ fluid pressure is within safe levels, and he would need to spend about two to three hours during each visit. According to Ms Yu, her father needed anaesthesia every time the doctor measured his eye pressure. The procedure was very uncomfortable as her father had to keep his eyes wide open while waiting for the probe to make contact.
After consulting clinicians and speaking to other glaucoma patients about the challenges they faced, and studying the current glaucoma monitoring methods, the team created HOPES after almost a hundred iterations. Unlike Goldmann applanation tonometry – the gold standard for measuring IOP - which causes patients’ discomfort, HOPES is designed to apply on eyelids, so this avoids cornea abrasion.
“Since 2018, our team has been working under the mentorship of Asst Prof Tee to study high-resolution and high-speed e-skin sensor arrays. When we heard the difficulties faced by glaucoma patients and doctors, we felt that we could offer a solution by combining our sensor technology with AI. Our ideation started in 2020, and it took us eight months to reach the current stage of HOPES,” recalled Mr Li.
Low cost, easy-to-use device for self-monitoring of eye pressure
HOPES allows users to test their IOP regularly and conveniently at home. The device consists of gloves with sensors in the fingertips, and is linked to a mobile app. To measure their eye pressure, glaucoma patients simply touch their eyelids with the glove on. The sensors on the gloved fingertip subsequently captures dynamic pressure information of the user's eye with sub-millisecond precision. The captured signals are processed by machine learning algorithms to continuously compute users’ IOP. Eventually it will become part of a telehealth platform.
The team estimates that HOPES will cost less than S$200 when produced at scale, and the cost could be further reduced if there is additional financial support – from medical insurance, for example - to make access to the technology even more affordable. This is only a small fraction of the cost of commercially available models, which can range from S$2,000 to S$4,000.
The NUS team is collaborating with clinicians at the National University Hospital to collect and analyse more patients’ eye pressure data to further enhance the machine learning models used by the system.
Mr Lee added, “In addition, we are working on iterating and testing this technology to optimise its performance. We are also improving the design of this invention for further clinical trials before bringing HOPES to market in three to five years’ time.”
Commenting on this year’s competition, Sir James Dyson said, “Commercialising an idea is very hard – I hope that the awareness that the Award drives, as well as the financial support it provides, will give these ideas a springboard to success.”