Astronomy technology used for early detection of age-related macular degeneration

July 17, 2013

(Phys.org) —Engineers used to designing state of the art instruments for ground and space based telescopes are now applying their expertise to the development of a diagnostic test for the developed world's most common form of sight loss in adults, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

AMD leads to the loss of the vision used when looking at something directly ahead, at another person for example, or when reading or watching television. In the UK alone, by 2020 the number of AMD sufferers is expected to rise to 750,000 and currently more than 1% of over 60s suffer from some sort of AMD. In the US, there are more than 10 million already living with AMD –more than all cancers combined and twice as many as those with Alzheimer's disease.

Engineers at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) normally design and make instruments to detect faint light from distant stars and galaxies. They are also currently collaborating with scientists from Cardiff University's School of Optometry and Vision Sciences to develop a unique instrument, a 'retinal densitometer', which can pick up the earliest stages of AMD by measuring, in the minutest of detail, how the eye responds to light.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Space technology doesn't just tell us more about the universe – it also has applications right here on earth. This project is very promising for patients and shows that by working across disciplines scientists and engineers can develop innovative new solutions for a whole range of issues, including healthcare."

Dr Dave Melotte, Innovation Manager at the UK ATC said: "This is a fantastic example of how fundamental science, technology and engineering can have a huge positive effect on society when working in collaboration with academia and experts in the relevant fields.

Astronomy technology and might seem poles apart but put the right experts together and they are able to achieve things that would be impossible by either group in isolation."

AMD affects a small part of the retina at the back of the eye, the macula, which is used to see detail and colour. One of the earliest signs of AMD is a change in the way that the light sensitive pigments in the macula regenerate after exposure to light. The densitometer can assess this change by measuring, over time, the very small changes in the amount of light reflected by the retina after exposure to light.

Cardiff University's Dr Tom Margrain, said: "The benefits to patients here are huge, but the benefit is not just societal, it is also economic. We may be living longer but this in turn increases the pressure on healthcare services. Our next steps will now be to get the densitometer ready for official clinical testing and then to take this through to full commercialisation. Ultimately our densitometer could be used in any optician's clinic."

Until very recently there have been few treatment options available for AMD, but some treatments to delay developments of early forms of the disease, and to manage it, are now being developed. Early diagnosis is the one of the most crucial factors for developing new treatments and improving the management of this disease, but it is extremely hard to detect in the early stages and current tests are relatively crude. Previous attempts at early detection techniques have been limited by the performance of the technology used to make the measurements.

The Retinal Densitometer works by measuring the way the eye "dark adapts" after exposure to a bright light. It has several distinct advantages when compared to existing detection techniques in terms of its sensitivity and ability to measure responses to light from different parts of the retina. It is also completely non-invasive unlike some techniques.

Early tests already carried out by the project team, on 10 patients with early stage AMD and 10 controls, have shown that the light changes on the macula can be highly accurately measured using this patented technology, and that it has a high ability to distinguish between affected and non-affected groups.

Explore further: Fighting blindness with technology

Related Stories

Fighting blindness with technology

July 11, 2013
The eye disease glaucoma leads to blindness and has no symptoms in the early stages, earning it the nickname "silent thief of sight". Regular eye examinations are essential for early detection and diagnosis of such eye diseases. ...

Poor eyesight can be rectified through nutrition, say leading eye experts

June 24, 2013
Blindness in the developed world is most commonly caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Over 15 million Europeans are affected by this condition, a figure that is expected to double over the next decade. But the ...

Ophthalmologists urge early diagnosis and treatment of age-related macular degeneration

April 3, 2013
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) continues to be the leading cause of visual impairment in the United States for people over age 65, according to a study recently published online in Ophthalmology, the journal of the ...

GEN reports on ocular therapeutics targeting the retina

September 10, 2012
Therapies for retinal diseases are expected to overtake those for glaucoma by 2014, reports Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN). Because current retinal disease treatments only improve vision for six to eight weeks, ...

VCU Medical Center first in Virginia to implant telescope for macular degeneration

April 15, 2013
Physicians at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center have become the first in Virginia to successfully implant a telescope in a patient's eye to treat macular degeneration.

The genetic basis for age-related macular degeneration

February 23, 2012
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, especially in developed countries, and there is currently no known treatment or cure or for the vast majority of AMD patients. New ...

Recommended for you

Combination of type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea indicates eyesight loss within four years

July 4, 2017
Research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered that patients who suffer from both Type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnoea are at greater risk of developing a condition that leads to blindness within an average ...

Nearly 60% of pinkeye patients receive antibiotic eye drops, but they're seldom necessary

June 28, 2017
A new study suggests that most people with acute conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, are getting the wrong treatment.

Magnetic implants used to treat 'dancing eyes'

June 26, 2017
A research team has successfully used magnets implanted behind a person's eyes to treat nystagmus, a condition characterised by involuntary eye movements.

Drug shows promise against vision-robbing disease in seniors

June 21, 2017
An experimental drug is showing promise against an untreatable eye disease that blinds older adults—and intriguingly, it seems to work in patients who carry a particular gene flaw that fuels the damage to their vision.

Reproducing a retinal disease on a chip

June 15, 2017
Approximately 80% of all sensory input is received via the eyes, so suffering from chronic retinal diseases that lead to blindness causes a significant decrease in the quality of life (QOL). And because retinal diseases are ...

New gene therapy for vision loss proven safe in humans

May 16, 2017
In a small and preliminary clinical trial, Johns Hopkins researchers and their collaborators have shown that an experimental gene therapy that uses viruses to introduce a therapeutic gene into the eye is safe and that it ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.