Eye Imaging Study Goes Deeper Into Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma

Eye Imaging Study Goes Deeper Into Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma

The advancement of medicine is more rapid today than any other time in history. This is mainly due to the instantaneous availability of things like stem cells, 3-D printing, robotic surgery, gene therapy and for eye disease, microscopic imaging.

Having the ability to look deeper into human cellular structures through high powered microscope lenses is highly advantageous in studying optical cells. Eye imaging technology has enabled early intervention as well as more specific acute treatment for top eye diseases like macular degeneration and glaucoma.

According to a groundbreaking study, it looks like this technology is capable of going even deeper which means good news for the future of combating eye disease.

Advanced Adaptive Optics

Eye imaging technology uses a procedure called adaptive optics scanning light ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) which is able to penetrate into the cellular mechanics of minuscule structures such as retinal pigment epithelial cells, photoreceptors, and blood cells in the retinal vasculature (blood vessel system). Although highly useful, going beyond this level of cells has been more challenging when it comes to elusive cells called retinal ganglion cells (RGC).

RGC’s are part of the microscopic optical makeup that can rapidly deteriorate, undetected, until disease develops and it is too late. Recently, more precise eye imaging capability is showing promise.

Seeing Transparency 

RGC’s are transparent allowing light to travel to the rear of the optical wall enabling the brain to decipher color changes. This transparency, however, is the reason AOSLO was not able to identify RGC’s while they deteriorated at an alarming rate in people with eye disease.

Now, a new study using a modified AOSLO treatment brings promise to detect retinal thinning due to dying RGC’s, the major cause of glaucoma and possibly macular degeneration.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at The University of Pittsburgh and University of Rochester Medical Center looked at a new eye imaging technique able to evaluate RCG’s before deterioration.

Assistant professor of ophthalmology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and study co-author Ethan Rossi comments,

“You need several tens of thousands of cells to be lost before you can detect a statistically significant thinning of retina with [the original AOSLO] technique,”

Because of this, in the past, eye imaging was avoided for lack of its ability to reach deep enough to detect retinal thinning. Instead, researchers would continually measure the thickness of the retina until there was evidence of its deterioration. This method was somewhat moot because with only about a million RCG’s in each eye and the inability to directly see RCG’s in real time, when retinal thinning began to appear, vision loss was already imminent.

PittNews reports on the groundbreaking work of co-author David Williams, the dean for Research in Arts, Sciences and Engineers at the University of Rochester describing how RCG’s were finally revealed,

“Williams’ research has approached this problem by redesigning a digital photography technique called adaptive optics, where researchers shoot a laser into an imperfect optical system, such as the atmosphere. The laser then reflects or scatters back into a separate detector that can measure how the beam has changed. By using a flexible mirror, the researcher can then effectively “subtract” or take out at distortion and see clearly beyond the atmosphere.”

Hope on the Horizon

For those suffering from glaucoma or macular degeneration this new study is the beginning of more hope on the horizon in eradicating vision disease. Through the results of this work even earlier intervention can be applied. As more pharmaceutical and surgical remedies are developed this early intervention could one day mean the difference between seeing or going blind.

A detailed description from the discussion of the study is explained here. Although somewhat technical it gives an idea of the importance of this research.

“Individual somas [parts of an organism]of RGC layer neurons can be imaged directly in the living eye of monkeys and humans using existing AOSLO instrumentation with only minor modifications. Photoreceptor pathology [disease] in AMD [age-related macular degeneration] can also be visualized with this method that enhances cone contrast in a similar manner to split-detection. The capability to image individual neurons through the full thickness of the retina could be transformative for the study of human retinal diseases…Measurement of somal size in populations of RGC layer neurons may be advantageous for studying glaucoma pathogenesis and response to treatment, as mean RGC area has been shown to decrease in glaucoma before cell death”

As technology such as advanced AOSLO detection continues to improve, you may very well be hearing of its applications soon. Overall, it is good to know that you and those you care for are not alone as science continues to forge a path toward a cure.