05.04.2017

Northwestern Professors Develop Micro-ring Device For Tracking Eye Diseases

A few scientists in Illinois believe they've created a breakthrough tracking device that could help doctors diagnose two major eye diseases. This tiny transparent device, which is placed right inside a contact lens, comes equipped with the ability to measure blood flow and oxygen metabolic rates in the back of the patient's eye. With the information collected from this device, it's very easy to diagnose both macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease before visual symptoms become apparent.

The professors responsible for this amazing device work at Northwestern University. They call their device a Micro-ring. Every Micro-ring focuses on the user's retinae using several ultrasensitive detectors.

Professor Hao Zhang, most famous for his innovations in the field of photoacoustic imaging, was the head researcher on this project. Dr. Zhang and his partners used the latest findings in photoacoustic imaging to help them in the development stages of the Micro-ring.

For those who are unaware, photoacoustic imaging uses both sound and light waves to produce clear images of biological materials. Many scientists nowadays use photoacoustic imaging to study biological tissue.

Dr. Zhang worked closely with Dr. Cheng Sun, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern, to develop the Micro-ring. Both of these professors began work on the Micro-ring in 2006 in Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine's facility.

It took years of trial and error to get the Micro-ring to the state it's in today. The main issue both doctors faced was making a product that was small enough to fit in a contact lens and had the power of several hundreds of megahertz.

The final device measures at 60 micrometers in diameter and only one micron in height. In the latest tests, the Micro-ring shows great potential in tracking a patient's blood flow and oxygen levels.

The Micro-ring is certainly an improvement over the more inconvenient methods employed for detecting retinal activity today. Most of the machines used for this purpose in hospitals today are, as Dr. Sun admits, clunky, opaque, and insensitive.

Besides offering eye doctors a new way to keep track of their eye health, the Micro-ring might have uses outside the medical field. For example, various geologists believe they can use Dr. Zhang's Micro-ring to better predict earthquakes.

The Micro-ring is still being perfected, but Dr. Zhang wants to run more tests on the product very soon. Hopefully, the Micro-ring will be put through clinical trials at Northwestern in the near future.

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs in older patients either when the retina deteriorate or blood vessels in the back of the eye start leaking. About 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with AMD annually. On the other hand, diabetic retinopathy is mainly caused by poor body sugar control leading to blood vessel complications in the retina. Around 200,000 diabetics are afflicted with diabetic retinopathy each year.

These two diseases can lead to blindness if left untreated for too long. Symptoms often aren't apparent to patients until the disease has progressed. That's why it's so important for everyone to get eye screenings on a regular basis.


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