October 24, 2017


Duke team creates tools to capture real-time images of the retina

Researchers pioneer handheld, 3D, and inter-surgical use of optical coherence tomography in pediatric settings

This story was originally published by Duke Clinical & Translational Science Institute

In the early 1990s, a revolutionary new technology began to emerge in the field of ophthalmology. It was called optical coherence tomography (OCT), and it represented the first major advance in retinal imaging for almost 150 years.

OCT uses light waves to create a cross-sectional image of the retina—similar to the way sound waves are used in a prenatal ultrasound—allowing physicians to see beneath the surface of the retina for the first time. When operated by a trained technician in a clinic, OCT overcomes one of the major limitations of earlier devices such as the ophthalmoscope, which revealed only a surface view of the retina.

“Using an ophthalmoscope is like looking at the ocean from above,” explains Dr. Cynthia Toth, professor of ophthalmology at the Duke University School of Medicine. “You see the beautiful pattern of waves on top, but there’s a lot going on below the surface, too, and it can be really important to see that.”

Toth, who is a practicing retinal surgeon, and her longtime collaborator, Dr. Joseph Izatt has been at the forefront of OCT innovation virtually since its inception, helping it grow from an idea to the standard of care for adult patients.

Now, with support from the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), they are developing a suite of devices and techniques that take OCT out of specialized clinics, allowing it to be used at a patient’s bedside—or even in surgery—to give physicians an unprecedented level of real-time information.

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