By Toby Sells

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A decade after its founding, iScreen LLC has been relaunched as iScreen Vision Inc. with a new device, new management, new client targets and a new green light from the government to move into the market.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration gave Memphis-based iScreen’s image-based eye screening device the all-clear for commercialization in January.

The device is a second-generation replacement for the company’s first eye screener that hit the market in 2001. The old device was stationary, weighed about 30 pounds and was sold for about $10,000 with an attached laptop that stored and transmitted images.

The new device is mobile, weighs about 4.5 pounds, retails for $3,500 and has a built-in computer.

“(The new device) is the offspring of listening to our customers,” said Darryl Jackson, iScreen chief operating officer. “The essence of the new design is ease of use. That’s what we constantly heard in the market and this is what it evolved into.”

The iScreen photoscreener looks like a small, older desktop computer — a small, sharp digital screen sits atop a flat, QWERTY keyboard. The backside of the device has a small window for a camera lens and its flash and two, red LED beams.

To use it, a screener aligns the beams on a child’s forehead and snaps a picture of his or her eyes. The images are sent to a website where they are screened by eye analysts who detect near-sightedness, far-sightedness or structural conditions like amblyopia, or “lazy eye.”

The product is designed specifically to screen children from 6 months old and up. Early detection of certain eye conditions is the best (and sometimes only) way to treat them, said iScreen CEO Buck Brown.

“When parents do realize (their child has eye problems), in many cases it’s too late with things like amblyopia,” Brown said. “When most kids realize they can’t see is when they’re sitting in the back of the classroom and realize everyone else in their row can see the blackboard but they can’t.”

The first-generation iScreen device was marketed to those that would conduct mass screenings, like schools. The new device is marketed to pediatricians and sold as a replacement for the generations-old eye chart.

“It is very difficult to assess the vision of a younger child who can not tell you which way a letter is pointing or what animal they see in a typical vision test,” said Dr. Jerry Collins, a pediatrician with Murfreesboro Medical Clinic in Middle Tennessee. “We can test children in wheelchairs or mobility problems like special needs children in the exam room without having to shift them to another room for testing.”

iScreen was founded in 2000 but Brown and Jackson were hired in May 2010 to raise new funds to help secure FDA approval of the new device, some of which came from Innova, the Memphis-based seed investment group. The executives were also tasked to get screenings approved for reimbursement from the federal government.

Brown, a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, previously worked in senior management at Storage USA and AutoZone. Jackson previously was vice president of sales and development for the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

— Toby Sells: 529-2742