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Astronomy tech used to improve diagnosis of glaucoma

14/03/2018By Matthew Woodley • Staff Journalist
A new ophthalmoscopy method that enables high-definition, high-contrast images of retina cells could allow eyecare professionals to diagnose glaucoma much earlier.

Indiana University School of Optometry researcher Professor Donald Miller pioneered the imaging technique, which utilises technology originally developed in astronomy to remove the effects of atmospheric blur from telescope images. According to Miller, the images it produces are so advanced it allows users to visualise and count individual cells at the back of the eye.


“It opens new, previously unimagined ways to map functional aspects of retinal neural circuitry and to detect the earliest cellular changes associated with disease onset.”
Donald Miller, Indiana University School of Optometry researcher

“The cells are very small, highly translucent and only dimly reflective. This prevents clinical instruments from creating sufficiently sharp images to see the damage,” Miller said.

“If eyecare practitioners could see this damage earlier, when it affects individual cells, it could dramatically improve the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and other diseases of the retina.”

First author of a paper on the non-invasive ophthalmoscopy method, published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr Zhuolin Liu, described the new method as an optical microscope with extremely high resolution and sensitivity.

“It enables eyecare practitioners to directly count, for the first time, retinal ganglion cells, the cells that die in glaucoma. This could allow them to assess glaucoma damage long before current clinical instruments allow them to,” she said.

“Our method provides a form of retinal biopsy, but it uses light, so it is non-invasive and allows repeated assessment of the same cells. By refocusing the instrument, we can obtain sharp images of cells at any depth in the retina, from cells on the surface to those that line the retinal bottom and keep the retina functioning.”

Indian University has already applied to patent the method, but Miller and his research team are now working to make it sensitive to the physiological activity of cells.

“If we can achieve this, it opens new, previously unimagined ways to map functional aspects of retinal neural circuitry and to detect the earliest cellular changes associated with disease onset,” he said.

“Integrating the method into a commercial OCT product for eyecare will require federal approval. A commercial version could be readily made much smaller than the current laboratory version to meet requirements for clinic use.”

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