Shedding new light on the eye

Dr Frederique Vanholsbeeck

Dr Frederique Vanholsbeeck

In Western societies, the two leading causes of blindness are age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Both diseases are associated with thinning of the choroid, a vascular layer at the back of the eye. Early diagnosis of this thinning would be highly beneficial to patients.

Similar to ultrasound, a technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) is now widely used to provide 3D structural imaging of the eye. But it lacks discrimination in key areas, having a limited imaging range and providing low contrast between different tissue types.

Dr Frederique Vanholsbeeck from the University of Auckland’s Physics Department has received Marsden funding to develop new differentiation tools in OCT, which will greatly improve image contrast. By combining sophisticated data analysis techniques with a new optical laser, Dr Vanholsbeeck’s multinational team will monitor chromatic dispersion and tissue stiffness.

Chromatic dispersion (the wavelength-dependence of light speed) usually blurs the contours in OCT images. But the flexibility of the new analysis techniques will allow clearer and more concise measurements giving information about tissue changes induced by disease. Tissue stiffness is altered by disease, so being able to measure it accurately will improve diagnostic options.

The use of these new non-invasive techniques will enable clinicians to look deep into the eye and gain accurate measurements of choroidal thickness. This research will greatly enhance the value of OCT imaging systems in ophthalmology, potentially leading to new therapeutic applications worldwide.

Total Funding: $800,000 (excl. GST, paid out over 3 years)

Including: salaries (these include post-doctoral fellowships and postgraduate stipends where applicable), overheads, expendable costs

Principal Researcher: Dr Frederique Vanholsbeeck, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland, Email: f.vanholsbeeck@auckland.ac.nz