Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Optos examination Retinal examination using the Optos ophthalmoscope P200

Douglas AndersonDouglas Anderson (b. 1951), engineer and inventor of the world's first ultra-widefield retinal imaging system

Engineering achievements

When Douglas Anderson's five-year old son suffered a detached retina and lost his sight in one eye, Douglas decided to try to develop a better device for detecting early stage eye problems. After many years of development, working with colleagues David Cairns and Robert Henderson, the technical challenges were progressively overcome and they finally succeeded in designing and patenting a scanning laser ophthalmoscope that enabled eye care practitioners to capture a digital ultra wide-field image of the retina in a single scan. The breakthrough was to use an ellipsoidal mirror in such a way that its focal point would create a 'virtual' light source just in front of the patient's pupil. It was calculated that this would allow a reflected low-level laser beam to have a scanning range of approximately 82 per cent of the retina - a huge improvement on the 5-30% of conventional examination techniques.

This was the first patent for an ellipsoidal mirror in an ophthalmoscope. One previous patent application had made the assertion that using an ellipsoidal mirror for scanning the retina would not work because of image distortion. Undeterred, Douglas and his colleagues found ways of using advanced electronics to correct the distortion and patented the 'scanning ophthalmoscope for scanning the retina of the eye'. Unlike previous devices, the Optos ophthalmoscope would be capable of producing high-resolution true colour images in a single scan, without the need for eye drops to dilate the pupil, making the process far more patient-friendly.

His Life

Age Event Year
Born in Elie, Fife, Scotland 1951
23 Graduated HND (with Distinction), Industrial Design Engineering, Napier College 1974
41 Optos founded 1992
48 The P200 received clearance fron the FDA and the EU CE marking 1999
49 Full commercial launch in the UK and USA 2000
53 Leading Individual Contribution to Life Sciences, Scottish Enterprise 2004
55 Optos plc floated on London Stock Exchange 2006
Optos plc awarded the MacRobert Award 2006
57 European Inventor of the Year 2008
Awarded OBE for services to life sciences 2008
Honorary Doctorate from Heriot Watt University 2008
58 Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration, Edinburgh Napier University2009
Vice President, Global Advocacy, Optos plc 2009
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2009
59 Non-executive director of Michelson Diagnostics Ltd 2010
61 Honorary Doctorate of Science from Salus University, Philadelphia 2012
61 Inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame 2012
62 Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering 2013
62 Honorary Fellow of IESIS 2013

His Legacy

Such has been the effectiveness of the device that it has created a paradigm shift in clinical thinking, enabling not just better and earlier diagnosis but rapidly increasing the understanding of how diseases develop such as to provide the basis for innovative new treatments. Approximately 4,400 Optos devices have been installed worldwide with the majority in North America. Optos is headquartered in Dunfermline, Fife and is growing quickly in Europe and expanding into new markets through new distribution channels and directly in Australia. As at March 2012, over 33 million optomap exams have been undertaken.

Douglas's determination to succeed is an inspiration to others. In his own words, "I have been described as 'terminally optimistic' and if that's true it's certainly a disposition that helped me, not just deal with, but enjoy what was a rough and chaotic journey along the brink of disaster that was our daily horizon. And will be that of anyone who dares to break new ground.

"But at the end of all that struggle we succeeded in making a valuable imaging device that everyone said was impossible technically, clinically unnecessary, and certainly doomed commercially. But we owe those Luddites a debt because it was their infuriating scepticism and complacency that gave our thoughts their momentum."

More Information

Optos, A CIPA Case Study Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys
2006 Winner, Optos plc Macrobert Award Winners 2006, Royal Academy of Engineering
Optos: The design challenges and business tribulations: RAEng/ RSE Annual Lecture 2008
European Inventor of the Year 2008 - SMEs/Research Category, European Patent Office
Download: Douglas Anderson acceptance speech Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame, James Watt Dinner, 28 September 2012

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