Krista D. Zanolli, email@example.com
AMES, Iowa – A new test is being developed that could revolutionize the diagnosis of glaucoma
by detecting the disease years earlier than is currently possible. And for Chenxu
Yu, an assistant professor at Iowa State University who headed the study, this development
hits particularly close to home.
“Roughly a year ago I visited an eye specialist who told
me I was at high risk for glaucoma, but due to the limitations of current detection
methods, he couldn’t tell me whether or not I actually had the disease,”
Yu said. “Of course, this sparked my interest. The doctor [Nicholas Hamouche]
and I began to talk about working together to explore new methods for early detection.”
Glaucoma is a disease that attacks the optic nerve, leading to
a gradual loss of vision over a long period of time. Glaucoma usually occurs as
a result of fluid pressure inside the eye slowly increasing over time, but unfortunately
there are no obvious warning symptoms that would prompt a patient to see a doctor.
Once lost, this damaged visual field can never be recovered. And, with 70 million
people worldwide (2.2 million in the US) affected by this disease that has no cure,
early detection is king.
A person with advanced glaucoma could have this view of the world, a risk that might
be reduced by a new early diagnostic test for the common eye disease. Image courtesy
of National Institutes of Health.
Scientists at Iowa State University are among the first to explore
the potential of using Raman spectroscopy for early detection and characterization
of this common eye disease.
“We are confident that we’re moving toward a breakthrough
that will allow us to detect glaucoma at its earliest stage,” Yu said. “We
hope it will benefit millions of glaucoma patients and individuals at risk for this
devastating eye disease worldwide.”
Currently there are two main techniques used for detection –
tonometry and ophthalmoscopy. Tonometry measures eye pressure by gently touching
an instrument to the outer surface of the eye, while ophthalmoscopy uses an ophthalmoscope
to look directly through the pupil at the optic nerve.
“All too often, these tests detect glaucoma after the disease
has been silently causing damage to the optic nerve,” Yu explained. “We
need ways of diagnosing glaucoma earlier, before permanent damage has occurred,
so that patients can begin taking medication to control it.”
Along with Yu and Hamouche, who is a glaucoma specialist at the
McFarland Clinic, the research team included Dr. Sinisa Grozdanic, a glaucoma researcher
and director of animal research for the Iowa City Veterans Administration Center
for Prevention and Treatment of Vision Loss (VACPTVL); Qi Wang, a doctoral student
at the university; and Drs. Matthew Harper and Helga Kecova, research scientists
The team chose to use Raman spectroscopy because it provides rapid
in vivo biochemical characterization of tissue and bodily fluids in a nondestructive
and noninvasive fashion. In this study, the method involved shining a beam of infrared
laser light (invisible to the human eye) through the pupil of the eye. The optic
nerve cells inside the eye scatter the light, producing a spectrum pattern that
reveals the chemical composition of the cells, allowing scientists to identify biochemical
changes in the cells that indicate glaucoma.
According to Yu, the technique detected glaucomatous changes in
the retinal tissue of dogs with 90 percent accuracy. The next step will be in vivo
study of dogs and, if all goes well, they can begin looking at potential clinical
trials in humans. According to the team, this new technique could be ready to be
used in eye doctors’ offices within five years.
“This is a very promising technique,” Yu said. “We
are very excited about the results so far and look forward to additional studies.”