Touching Lives - February 2008
Detecting eye disease before blindness sets in
Up to 300,000 people in the UK are blind or partially sighted because of AMD; diabetic retinopathy affects nearly everyone with Type I diabetes and up to 60 per cent of those with Type II. Fortunately, the last few years have seen the launch of some promising new treatments, but crucial to their success is early diagnosis. A project team led by Professor Wolfgang Drexler from Cardiff University is developing a new approach to taking images of the retina — the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye that is damaged in AMD, diabetic retinopathy and several other types of blindness. By making highly technical modifications to an existing technique called optical coherence tomography, or OCT, (which is similar to ultrasound except that it uses laser light and is therefore a non-invasive method), researchers are hoping to get clear, three-dimensional images giving previously unobtainable information about the structures within and behind the retina. The project will involve an important collaboration with Professor Rachel North, an internationally acclaimed expert in taking images of the eye. The new equipment will be tested on 30 people with diabetic retinopathy, 30 with AMD and 30 with cataracts.The pain-free and non-invasive technique takes only a few seconds. Such images might dramatically improve the diagnosis of all forms of vision loss that result from retinal damage, allowing much earlier treatment, and would also help develop even better treatments, by providing an accurate way to measure their benefits. This project has been funded by a generous grant from The Henry Smith Charity.