The Glia Otoscope Project
An otoscope is an essential diagnostic tool which allows a medical provider to assess a patient’s nasal canal, ear canal, tympanic membrane, and surrounding structures. The head of an otoscope contains a light source and a magnifying lens, which allows visual examination via the distal (front) end comprised of a plastic speculum. Most otoscopes have a rechargeable or direct-charge light source, an important feature which prevents misdiagnoses from low-light examinations. As an otoscope is routinely used by audiologists and clinicians during a physical exam, access to a high-quality tool that effectively performs the required functionality is paramount.
Although the otoscope is a fundamental tool in the clinical practice setting, medical centers and hospitals in limited resource areas may not have access to this device. In many settings, obtaining an otoscope to promptly diagnose common ear conditions is often not possible, an accessibility disparity which prevents early recognition of ear infections and creates significantly reduced effectiveness of subsequent treatments.
In 2018, Glia partnered with Frankie Talarico, a then 2nd year audiology student at Western University Ontario, to develop an open-source, accessibly priced otoscope. As a medical student in clinical rotations, Frankie was required to have an otoscope for patient examinations but found that the gold-standard Welch Allyn device had a prohibitive cost of several hundred dollars. This discovery, combined with well-documented accessibility barriers to basic diagnostic tools in low resource settings, inspired Frankie to join the Glia team and support patient-centered care. Frankie is now an audiologist and has formed his own medical device manufacturing firm, E4R Designs, under which he develops additional audiology-supportive tools.
In 2019, the otoscope debuted on GitHub, featuring FreeCAD design files created by the Glia Gaza team. By 2020 the otoscope was available for purchase in the Glia store. The design continues to be researched and supported by Ontario audiology students at Queen’s School of Medicine Kingston and Schulich School of Medicine, with peer-reviewed publication being targeted.
Prior to the Glia project, other 3D printed and open-source otoscopes suffered from low-grade clinical performance and higher difficulty of use. As a response to this challenge, Glia has sought to build a high-quality, premium device at a noticeably accessible price point of $100. Most commercial devices are prominently comprised of metal, which means the device is heavy and costly to repair if damaged. Glia’s objective was to develop a lightweight device which can be repaired at minimal cost while functioning as well as the high-quality devices on the market.
The Glia otoscope primarily composed of 3D printed plastic parts for the head, body, and battery compartment, finished with a small magnifying lens and light bulb. This makes the otoscope light and easy to carry and, since all design files are open-sourced, easy to disassemble and repair if damaged.
Since the otoscope is still being developed and targeted for peer-reviewed publication, most device distribution has occurred to Ontario audiology students. In 2021, Glia began working on an upgraded model featuring a streamlined assembly of reduced parts and an upgraded battery. Also, currently in development is model V2.0 which will feature a rechargeable USB option. This redesign remains in progress. Glia is seeking CAD$20,000 to support the research, manufacturing, clinical trial and publication cost of the otoscope project, including advanced design requirements for throat examinations.