The same technology used by astronomers to obtain clear views of distant stars is now being used by optometrists to perform incredibly detailed examinations of the living eye. An update on new developments in ocular imaging techniques—and how they may affect clinical vision care in the not-too-distant future—is presented in an article titled "Adaptive Optics Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope-based Microperimetry" published in a special May issue of Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
Cutting-edge techniques now allow researchers to visualize the fine structure of the eye in a way that was "not conceivable 20 years ago," according to a guest editorial by Scott Read OD PhD FAAO (Candidate) and colleagues. "As these advanced imaging methods continue to develop, the potential for imaging ocular structures down to the cellular level in everyday clinical practice has become a reality—and the potential to improve patient care is truly stunning," Dr Read and coauthors add.
New Techniques Provide Cellular-Level Images of the Living Eye
The special issue presents 30 reports on the latest, most advanced techniques for imaging and measurement of various eye structures: the retina and optic nerve, lens and ciliary body, and the anterior eye. Written by leading researchers and clinicians, the contributions provide a fascinating look at these remarkable new technologies, with a glimpse of their likely extensions into clinical practice.
As just one example, William S. Tuten, OD, MS, and colleagues of the University of California, Berkeley, report on the development and use of an "adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope." Adaptive optics refers to the use of advanced techniques to correct for optical aberrations through any transparent media. Originally developed for use in telescopes to correct for the distorting effects of the atmosphere, adaptive optics is now being applied to evaluating the structure and function of the human eye.
Dr. Tuten and colleagues have applied adaptive optics to perimetry—also known as visual field testing—on the microscopic scale. Perimetry is an important part of evaluation for patients with vision disorders including macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetic retinopathy. Perimetry measures vision in all parts of the visual field, including the peripheral vision.
Promising Applications to Improve Clinical Vision Care
The new paper describes (and illustrates) the use of adaptive optics-guided microperimtery to assess visual fields at an unprecedented level of detail. The technique can not only show limitations in visual fields, but can trace the defect to individual retinal photoreceptor cells. High-speed tracking is used to correct for normal eye movement, or "jitter," that is practically undetectable using conventional imaging techniques.
In addition, by using microscopic blood vessels as anatomical landmarks, the adaptive optics technique permits repeated studies to be repeated over time at a high level of precision. This offers unique opportunities for studying how treatments work on the cellular level, as well as following the effects of treatment over time in individual patients.
"This technique opens new horizons for clinician-scientists, and later clinicians, to better understand, and plot out, the relationships between vision and the retinal photoreceptors at a microscopic level," comments Anthony Adams, OD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Optometry and Vision Science. "It enables a new understanding of vision loss in patients with retinal disorders where there are discrete photoreceptor losses—for example, macular degeneration."
Adaptive optics-guided microperimetery and other advanced imaging technologies described in the special issue have the potential to revolutionize the management of eye diseases, Dr. Read and colleagues believe. They conclude, "With ongoing improvements in imaging speed and resolution, and with the application of innovative methods to improve the clinical usefulness of ocular imaging techniques, the future of ocular imaging is bright!"
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