Opthamologists in the Midlands are to get their first glimpse of a new machine that assesses a person's chance of developing a condition which can lead to blindness.
MacuScope, the world's first device designed to screen the eye's macular pigment, will be displayed at Aston Academy of Life Sciences, based at Aston University, later this month.
The machine - which costs about £10,000 - measures pigment density in the macula, which is responsible for the eye's detailed vision.
A low reading can mean a person faces a high risk of developing age-related macular disorder (AMD), and early identification can allow opticians to develop a treatment strategy to help prevent the onset of the condition.
It is estimated that up to a fifth of the Government's budget for health in future could be swallowed up by funding treatment and services for AMD sufferers, as the UK's ageing population grows.
There is no cure for the condition, which ultimately leads to blindness, but the deterioration of sight can be slowed down.
Those considered to be at high risk from AMD are diabetics, smokers and people with a family history of the condition - but the test could be made available to anyone who feels they may be at risk.
If opticians invest in a MacuScope, patients could have a non-invasive five-minute test for about £15.
Michelle Hanratty, refractive clinic manager at Aston Academy of Life Sciences, said: "AMD is one of the leading causes of blindness among the ageing generation, so if we are able to identify the early signs we could well be on the way to solving this problem.
"Early symptoms of AMD are not immediately noticeable, so often by the time diagnosis is made, it's too late - the damage has been done. But if we can measure the amount of pigment, and discover it's low before sight becomes impaired, we can develop a treatment strategy to help slow down or prevent its onset.
"For example there's evidence some vitamin supple-ments, like lutein, can help in that regard, as can a healthy diet with lots of beta-carotene and leafy green vegetables."
Macular pigment is composed of carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin and mesoz eaxanthin, and recent research suggests there is a link between a particular type of macular degeneration and a diet low in lutein and zeaxan-thin, with the pigment playing a protective role.
Ms Hanratty added: "If the MacuScope does what it claims it can, it will have a huge impact on the population's eye health, but opticians will want to see evidence of clinical trials before they take it on."
B irmingham Optical Group, based in Moseley, has secured the first licence to sell the high-tech machines in UK and Europe.
It will showcase the first machine at Aston University on February 16 and 17 to opticians and opthamologists.
Trevor McCormack, who is the company's business director, added: "Opticians are being given £29 million by the Government to screen diabetics for vision problems, so the US manufacturers know they're very pro-active when it comes to screening which is why we've got the first machine.
"However, opticians won't get paid for carrying out this test, which could be a barrier to them taking this technology on board.
"Evidence from the States has been good and if opticians here see the MacuScope do what it claims it can, this device could be installed in high street opticians, chemists, as well as specialist eye hospitals."