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Researchers Develop New Non-Invasive Technique to Diagnose, Treat Eye Diseases

Jan 03, 2017 11:17 AM EST

A new imaging technique developed by researchers at the University Of Rochester Medical Center could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, preventing potential vision loss.

The new non-invasive method, described in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has the ability to distinguish individual retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at the back of the eye.

"This technique offers the opportunity to evaluate many cell classes that have previously remained inaccessible to imaging in the living eye," said Ethan A. Rossi, Ph.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine, in a press release. "Not only RGCs, but potentially other translucent cell classes and cellular structures."

For the new technique, the researchers, led by David Williams, Ph.D., modified an existing technology called confocal adaptive optics scanning light ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO). Using the modified AOSLO, the researchers collected multiple images, varying the size and location of the detector they used to gather light scattered out of the retina for each image, and then combined those images.

This technique, dubbed as multi-offset detection, was performed in animals, as well as volunteers with normal vision and patients with age-related muscular degeneration.

The researchers, using the new method, were able to visualize individual RGCs, which are nearly perfectly transparent. Additionally, the new non-invasive imaging method was able to distinguish structures within the cells, such as nuclei, in animals.

RGCs are responsible for relaying visual information to the brain. The death of RGCs can cause vision loss in patients with glaucoma. At present, glaucoma is diagnosed as the thickness of the nerve fibers projecting from the RGCs to the brain. However, the researchers noted that the current diagnostic tool for glaucoma might detect the deaths of RGCs too late.

The earlier detection of glaucoma, which is considered to be the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, the better the chances of preventing vision loss through earlier treatments.

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