Handheld device could improve infant eye knowledge

Engineers and physicians at Duke University in North Carolina, US have developed a handheld device capable of capturing images of a retina with cellular resolution, which could help researchers gather detailed structural information about the eyes of infants and toddlers for the first time. Diagnostic tools that examine and image the retina have been well-designed for adults, but are exceedingly difficult to use in infants and young children who can’t hold the required position or focus for long enough periods of time, Dr Cynthia Toth, professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering at Duke University, explained. Before now, it hasn’t been possible to measure the impact of injury or diseases on their photoreceptors – the cells in the eye in which light is first converted into nerve signals. According to Duke University, while optical coherence tomography (OCT) has become one of the most popular imaging technologies of the past three decades, it has been traditionally been bulky. [The] patient must sit still in front of the machine and rain focused on a particular point, a Duke University statent explained. And the process takes tens of minutes – an eternity to most toddlers, as any parent knows well. The statent also noted that previous handheld devices based on OCT and other similar technologies had been far from ideal . Some weigh several pounds, making holding th still over a child’s eye tiresome and difficult, and none provide a high enough resolution to see individual photoreceptors, the statent read.In contrast, the handheld device developed by Duke University’s researchers and ophthalmologists was described as about the size of a pack of cigarettes, weighs no more than a few slices of bread and is capable of gathering detailed information about the retina’s cellular structure . This [is] the first time researchers have been able to directly measure the density of photoreceptors called cones in infants, Professor Joseph Izatt, the Michael J Fitzpatrick professor of engineering at Duke University, stated. As such, it opens the door to new research that will be key in future diagnosis and care of hereditary diseases. A prototype device is currently being used in Duke University’s clinical care and education facilities, and it was said that the amount of information being gained from children’s scans could eventually create a database to provide a better picture of how the retina matures with age.The researchers are also in the process of improving the device design following clinician feedback.A paper on the new technology was published in the August issue of Nature Photonics.

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