by: Kiona Smith-Strickland
Why You Should Thank an Astronomer? We are, as Carl Sagan famously said, made of star stuff—and now, your doctor may use a technology designed for studying the stars to examine the inner workings of your eyes. Here’s how it works—and could one day save you from blindness.
Astronomers use a technology called adaptive optics to correct blurring in images captured by telescopes. The system works by tilting, rotating, and flexing telescope mirrors to correct distortions in the light from distant stars. Now, a miniature version can help ophthalmologists correct blurring in images of the eye, revealing microscopic details that doctors couldn’t see before in live patients.
Adaptive optics have been around since the mid-2000s but the hardware has been too expensive for the average clinic. Now, a team of researchers says they’ve developed computer software that can correct the blurring without extra hardware. University of Illinois doctor and engineer Stephen Boppart and his colleagues published a paper on their new technique in the journal Nature Photonics.
Seeing the Retina
It’s a familiar part of most eye exams: The ophthalmologist shines a bright light into your eyes while peering at them through an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. The lamp and the ophthalmoscope’s magnifying power give your doctor a decent look inside your eye, all the way back to your retina, the layer of cells at the back of your eye. Cells in the retina translate light into nerve signals and then send those signals to your brain.
Your eye doctor may also use a more advanced technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT), which uses low-powered lasers to image your retinas. It’s one of those parts of the eye exam that requires you to put your face in a chin rest that looks like it would be at home in a medieval torture chamber, but it’s painless and usually pretty quick. Plus, there are lasers, which make anything cooler.
OCT is the best technology available for retinal exams at the moment, and it can provide a pretty detailed view of your retina, with resolution ranging from 5 to 10 micrometers. It’s a good way to look for signs of problems like macular degeneration, for instance. It gives your doctor a cross-section view of your retina, which look like this……..