National Eye Institute researchers in the U.S. have developed a method called retinal imaging technique which reveals live neurons, epithelial cells and blood vessels within the retina. Complex units of cells that interact in the outer edge of the retina are visible by combining adaptive optics and angiography. This technique could help with the diagnosis and monitoring of diseases like atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and age-related macular degeneration surfacing in the retinal region.
Conventional technologies are limited in their ability to show details like live cells interacting. Post-mortem tissue samples and tissue biopsies are used to study cellular characteristics in diseases. This study has limitations because in such samples light gets distorted as it passes through the eye. Additionally, only a rough approximation of a living tissue is available which makes it difficult to monitor disease progression over time.
Researchers used a tech called employed adaptive optics to tackle this issue. This tech is used in space telescopes which involve deformable mirrors and computer algorithms to correct light distortion. Researchers modified this optical technique by combining it with angiography. The modification involves injecting dye into the blood and then using a camera to image the blood vessels within the retina. The modification paid off and resulted in high-resolution images of the retina. These images allowed real-time observation that had never been seen before in living retinal tissue, including complex units of epithelial cells, capillaries, and photoreceptors.
This technique has potential in diagnosing and understanding a variety of diseases. The research team got clear results after testing the imaging technique in a patient suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. They discovered that the photoreceptors had died in the specific regions of the retina but capillaries and retinal pigment epithelial cells were still intact in these regions.
Doctors in the past found it hard to reliably asses the status of photoreceptors alongside RPE cells and choriocapillaris in the eye. The first critical step for developing and evaluating targeted treatments for diseases is to reveal which tissue layers are affected in different stages of diseases. Diagnosing becomes easier after the root cause is revealed.