Technical University of Denmark: High-tech chip can improve diagnosis of eye diseases

A new laser chip for fast and accurate 3D measurement of the interior of the eyeball developed by DTU spin-out Octlight is currently being tested by companies in Europe, China, and the USA that produce OCT equipment used to scan the retina and optic nerve of the eye. Octlight’s laser chip is similar to the chip used for facial recognition in mobile phones. Everything is so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, but integrated into the right electronic circuits and chips, the laser diode can take the measurement of the eye background and the diagnosis of visual function and eye diseases to a whole new level.

The laser chip has been eight years in the making in DTU’s cleanroom, where CEO of Octlight Thor Ansbæk and his two colleagues have integrated a laser diode on a chip—a micro-electromechanical system.

“Without blinking, I can say that our chip is the most advanced chip under development in DTU’s clean room. The technology behind it is so advanced that it can only be carried out in a few places in the world, and our company is completely dependent on us being able to develop and produce the chip in DTU’s clean room,” says Thor Ansbæk.

Ultra-precise eye measurement
Based on extensive research and technology patented by DTU, Octlight has since 2015 developed and started production of their laser chip in rented premises at DTU located close to DTU Nanolab’s clean room. Using this technology in ophthalmological equipment, ophthalmologists can create a cross-sectional image and a photograph of the back of the eye called the retina. The super-sharp, high-resolution images improve ophthalmologists’ diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases such as calcification of the eye or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Octlight’s laser chip can also be used to measure eye length, which is a key parameter when ophthalmologists are to select a new artificial (intraocular) lens to replace a patient’s calcified lens in cataract surgery. The OCT scanner’s cross-sectional images provide an accurate description of the inner and outer surfaces and thickness of the cornea, thus allowing ophthalmologists to correctly position the new artificial lens with higher precision.

Chip developed in DTU’s clean room
Today, the laser module is used by the MedTech industry in the development of next-generation ophthalmic equipment for diagnosing eye diseases, and the company is currently raising double-digit millions in new capital to scale up production and meet demand once the equipment becomes widely available to ophthalmologists. Once that is in place, Octlight still, however, needs to be able to develop and produce its chips in DTU’s clean room, where access to machines paid for by the hour is a significant competition parameter.

“We already need more space for the machines we use in the clean room, but due to the current queue of companies wanting to rent space, we have not been able to get more square metres. We have investigated the possibilities of getting more space in Sweden, and if we are to expand production to supply the world market that is ready to buy up to 80,000 units for existing ophthalmological devices, we seriously need to increase capacity,” says Thor Ansbæk.

Octlight’s laser chip technology can also be used in several types of surgery and medical fields requiring ultra-precise measurements. The technology can also be applied in autonomous systems such as cars, robots, etc., where it—combined with the LiDAR laser technology—can provide lightning-fast and micrometer-precision scans of the surroundings with distances from a few millimeters and up to 100 meters.