Duke UniversityOur eyes may probably be one of the best gifts of nature. We can see the world and its wonders with a perfect vision. But, what if the disease is prenatal? A study at the Duke University Medical center recently stated that, a new device can trace the early signs of eye diseases in premature infants.

The device partly developed by Duke biomedical engineers, claims to use spectral domain optical coherence tomography to get 3-D images of the back of the eye.

“This new tool is changing the way we identify eye conditions in infants,” says Cynthia Toth, MD, an ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Center, who is leading the study.

According to the findings of the National Eye Institute, one of the major causes in vision loss in children is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). It supposedly affects about 16,000 babies each year.

ROP occurs when babies are born prematurely and poor development of retinal blood vessels seems to be the major cause for the condition. Vessels are prone to leak and contract and grow abnormally. Apparently, this can cause retinal detachments leading to visual loss and blindness.

Traditionally in ROP, two-dimensional images are taken with a device named ophthalmoscope or with a camera placed on the baby’s cornea.

“Examining the retina with these methods is like looking at the surface of the ocean and only seeing dimly into the shallow water,” says Toth, a professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering. “You cannot see what lies below.”

Whereas, in the SD OCT a narrow beam of light is used to create a 3-D high-resolution map of the complex details in the retina’s layers.

“This is like looking into an aquarium from the side, where all the fish at every depth are visible,” Toth says.

For over a decade, experts at the Duke Eye Center claim to be using OCT to accurately examine adult eyes. From the past two years, Toth has been using this technology to study retinal diseases in children.

“SD OCT reveals the retina in greater detail than was ever before realized, allowing us to observe disease at almost the cellular level” she says.

Enhancements in the OCT led Joseph Izatt, a professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmologists at the Duke University and chairman and chief technology officer of Bioptigen to create the novel device. This device takes pictures 40 times faster than the basic version of OCT. Apparently, it claims to be less time consuming as multiple scans of the eye are available easily. Portability of the device enables users to take the system directly to premature babies in the incubator.

“Now, for the first time, we can take the SD OCT system into the neonatal intensive care unit and hold it over the infant’s eye without touching the eye and image the retina while the infant is lying in the bed,” she says. “We don’t have to transport the infants out of the intensive care unit, which makes the whole process much more comfortable for them and their parents.”

The new aim of Cynthia Toth is to analyze how the device can contribute in taking treatment decisions.

“Right now we’re analyzing data on more than 20 infants to identify how the SC OCT images of RoP relate to the usual examination and to decisions we make about treatment. What we hope to learn is whether what we see in the infant’s eyes today will help us to predict how their disease and vision will be in the future.”

Apparently, Toth also predicts the new technology can have practical applications for improving the diagnosis and treatment of babies suffering from retinal diseases that may include albinism and retinal injury.

This study was published in the Ophthalmology journal and the device is manufactured by Bioptigen.