SFU PhD candidate designs first-ever combined drug and alcohol detection test


Ehsan Daneshi is revolutionizing how sobriety is tested. He may even help officers get a better look at whether someone is under any influence in the near future.  

Daneshi is a busy man, running between meetings for his latest product and Ophthalight — a company he co-founded to innovate eye examination devices. The Peak sat down with him at his SFU Surrey office to hear about the wide variety of uses this new technology has in the ophthalmology and sobriety test fields.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it out — the device he had on hand was a non-functioning prototype — but nevertheless, we managed to get a better idea of what he and his team are up to.

The Peak: What are police officers using right now to test for driver impairment?

Ehsan Daneshi: Swinging flashlight test. What they are looking for is the way the pupil is responding to the light stimuli. They are looking to see if pupils are dilating and constricting in a normal way. If there is any difference between how your right pupil is reacting with respect to the left pupil, it is an indicator of potential abnormalities.

P: How consistent are field sobriety tests?

ED: Field sobriety tests are quite subjective. The way they are doing it, is very subjective and dependent on many variables. A DUI [Driving Under the Influence] defence lawyer normally shows up and argues against the police officer, claiming they may not have been trained, or the environment may not have been perfect. There are scientific studies that say nearly 40 percent of diagnoses by ophthalmologists are inconsistent with one another. If a doctor in an office has such a high error rate, how could a police officer on the field fare any better?

P: What does the device track on your eye?

ED: We track eye movements via several different sensors including pictures and video. The cameras collect data, what we do with that data is what makes this product special. We are working on a product like photoshop for doctors.

P: How do ophthalmologists diagnose eye conditions now?

ED: They literally draw on an image of the eye. They do their best, but it contributes to the 40 percent inconsistency between test results. We did a successful clinical trial with 44 patients. It was a great moment for our company.

P: Has this technology been used in an actual medical space?

ED: We have used it in actual patients, and quite possibly saved [one patient’s] life. She had vague visual complaints, the standard swinging light test couldn’t find the disorder, but our device when used found problems that led to a diagnosis of early-stage of MS.

P: How did you realize this technology would be useful for police officers?

ED: We had it recommended to us, and when we went searching, we noticed it’s a great way to take our product to market.

P: How did Venture Connection (VC) get involved?

ED: We are a client of Venture Connection, since last year, SFU introduced a new program in business school called science and technology commercialization. The course is open to graduate and post-doc students. During the last year advisors from VC and Beedie School of Business, all helped us to refine the business plan, and how to monetize this technology, and developing a customer profile.

P: Have you won any awards?

ED: New Ventures BC, [the] largest tech competition in BC. Over 160 companies competed. We actually made it to the top 10. We talked to the director of communications at Johnson & Johnson, she became a mentor.

P: What are your next steps? One-year timeline, five-year timeline?

ED: We have partnerships with some clinics and eye care providers. We want to continue performing clinical studies. We want to give our devices to them. We are also in touch with the police and DUI experts, to customize this device to help [their accuracy] and make police officers’ jobs easier.

P: Will this be available consumer-wide?

ED: No, this is something designed for special groups.

P: What do you think the price point will be?

ED: Probably under $5,000, with software subscription fees. But you never really know with start-ups until the moment you want to sell it. The market will dictate pricing.

P: Are you intending on raising venture capital?

ED: We have raised over $50,000. We received non-diluted funding from the government, Health Tech Innovation Foundation, BCIC, and Wavefront. We are looking for investors to scale up and take care of legal issues, such as being Health Canada approved, and ISO 13485 certifications.

P: What is your exit strategy?

ED: We want to licence out the technology to bigger players or if we get a good offer, we want to sell to a company that can provide distribution so this product can be in the hands of as many ophthalmologists as possible.

P: What important truth about this field do very few people agree with you on?

ED: There are scientific studies out there that say not everyone is perfect at doing this swinging flashlight test. A lot of the time, some of the eye care providers are very confident in doing the test correctly. And they claim they have never missed a single diagnosis. But it’s very obvious that they don’t even have the perfect condition for doing the test. That’s the moment you don’t feel very happy. If I could help them, inform them, educate them, of the problems they have in their office, that would be very good.

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