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  • $1.8M Grant Funds Adaptive Optics Study for Glaucoma
Feb 2012
HOUSTON, Feb. 3, 2012 — A $1.85 million NIH grant will support a study to determine the effectiveness of adaptive optics in capturing the earliest cellular changes signaling the onset of glaucoma, which may lead to earlier diagnosis of the blinding disease.

Jason Porter, a University of Houston assistant professor of vision science and biomedical engineering, uses an adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope, or AOSLO, to create high-resolution movies on a cellular level of the living eye.

Jason Porter, assistant professor of vision science and biomedical engineering at the University of Houston, uses the AOSLO device to take sharper, higher-resolution images of the eye than current clinical instruments. The device helps him better understand the earliest changes of glaucoma. (Image: Thomas Campbell)

“Even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, our eyes still have subtle optical imperfections, and these imperfections limit the ability of current clinical instruments to obtain high-resolution images in the eye on a cellular-level,” Porter said. “The AOSLO uses a technology called adaptive optics to correct for these subtle imperfections, thereby improving the eye’s optical quality and allowing our instrument to capture sharp images of single cells in living eyes. This could potentially lead to more sensitive imaging techniques that may better clarify the causes of glaucoma.”

Porter’s work concentrates on examining the lamina cribrosa, which is the sponge-like, porous part of the eye in the optic nerve head that provides structural and functional support to the retinal axons as they exit the eye and move to the brain. Signals detected by the retina are transmitted through retinal axons that exit the eye through the optic nerve head and tend to travel in bundles, weaving their way through the pores in the lamina cribrosa and exiting the eye to go to the brain.

Glaucoma is a disease in which pressure may increase in the eye, leading to a bowing and stretching backward of the lamina cribrosa in early stages of the disease. This bowing, he says, could cause changes in the relative geometry of the lamina’s pores, potentially damaging the axons coursing through them and, thus, the axons’ ability to transport signals to the brain.

The knowledge resulting from this research will enhance clinicians’ understanding of the development and progression of glaucoma and may provide earlier recognition of structural damage from the disease. The study’s results also may lead to more sensitive imaging diagnostics used by optometrists and ophthalmologists to prevent vision loss. It could enable earlier detection of structural damage to the retina and optic nerve head, and it could help eye doctors to better evaluate and track the effectiveness of glaucoma treatments.

“While my lab has expertise in high-resolution imaging of the eye and the lamina, we provide only one piece of the puzzle in glaucoma,” Porter said. “It is very important that we relate the changes we see in our images of the lamina cribrosa with other changes that occur in the retina and in a patient’s vision. Therefore, our work is really a collaborative effort between several scientists and clinicians in the College of Optometry.”

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adaptive optics
Optical components or assemblies whose performance is monitored and controlled so as to compensate for aberrations, static or dynamic perturbations such as thermal, mechanical and acoustical disturbances, or to adapt to changing conditions, needs or missions. The most familiar example is the "rubber mirror,'' whose surface shape, and thus reflective qualities, can be controlled by electromechanical means. See also active optics; phase conjugation.
The inability to perceive visual images (visible radiant energy). In human beings, blindness is defined as a visual acuity of less than one-tenth normal vision.
The branch of medicine involved in the study of the anatomy, functions, diseases and treatments of the eye.
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