Researchers receive £1.3 million to develop sight-saving imaging technology

Staff at the University of Liverpool's Department of Eye & Vision Science have been awarded £1.3 million by the National Institute for Health Research's (NIHR) Intervention for Innovation (i4i) program to develop a state-of-the-art Ultra-Sensitive Optical Coherence Tomography (Ultra-OCT) system.

The Ultra-OCT is intended to revolutionize the way corneal eye conditions are detected, diagnosed and managed.

The best commercially available OCT machines have a resolution of no more than 4 micrometers, but the Liverpool team's system has a far superior resolution of 2 micrometers and can scan 1,000 times faster.

This means that doctors using the Ultra-OCT will be presented with a non-invasive, safe, cross-sectional view of a cornea - a virtual biopsy - while patients will benefit from earlier disease detection, more accurate monitoring of their eyes and personalised management of their conditions.

The award will fund the development of a clinical prototype, produced in collaboration with colleagues in the University's Electrical Engineering & Electronics department. It will then be tested with patients at St Paul's Eye Unit at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, while The Centre for Health Economics & Medicines Evaluation (CHEME) at Bangor University will assess its cost effectiveness for possible future NHS use.

The NIHR has previously funded a lab-based prototype of the system, which with its fast, precise and accurate automated analysis tools performed exceptionally well when scanning donated human eye tissue. The multi-disciplinary team, led by Dr Yalin Zheng, is confident that the clinical prototype will do the same.

Dr Zheng said: "OCTs have already transformed the way we diagnose and treat eye conditions, but our aim is to develop a system which will take that to the next level. By adopting a different approach to other systems on the market we are developing an OCT scanner which offers superior scanning technology and wide applicability, while also being commercially viable."

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