February 22, 2024

What are 3D retinal images and what is their benefit?

This story is part of a series about current advances in regenerative medicine. This piece is part of a series dedicated to the eye and improvements in vision restoration.

In 1999, I defined regenerative medicine as the set of interventions that restore tissues and organs damaged by disease, injured by trauma, or worn down by time to normal function. I include a full spectrum of chemical, gene and protein-based medicines, cell-based therapies and biomechanical interventions that achieve that goal.

Unlocking the hidden secrets in our eyes has always fascinated scientists and doctors alike. With the remarkable technology of Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT), a new world is emerging – one in which precise 3D retinal scans create a mesmerizing tapestry of our inner ocular landscapes. Through the mesmerizing dance of near-infrared light waves and intricate layers of the retina, we embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of our vision, one detailed cross-section at a time.

What happens during a 3D retinal scan?

When you sit down for the test, the scanning device takes multiple high-resolution images of your retina using a beam of near-infrared light waves that reflect through the layers. The images captured by the device are combined to create a detailed 3D model of your inner eye, highlighting the intricate structures such as the fovea, optic nerve and Henle fibers. This technology allows doctors to observe your retina like never before, helping to determine the health of your eye and detect early signs of eye conditions and diseases.

Understanding ocular coherence tomography

To fully understand the process of 3D modeling of the eye, it is crucial to be familiar with Ocular Coherence Tomography or OCT. With this method, the retina is scanned with a beam of light. As the light waves enter your retina, they are partially reflected by each individual layer.

The reflected and incoming waves combine to form an interference pattern, creating a 3D image of your retinal structures. Creating a 3D image of the back of the eye requires multiple high-resolution scans, with approximately 1,000 images captured during each scan. These images are then processed and merged to yield a comprehensive model that shows the intricate inner structures of the eye, including the fovea, optic nerve and Henle fibers.

The quality and precision of this image depend on the scanning technique your doctor uses, and this may vary depending on your specific needs. A promising method is called Polarization-sensitive Optical Coherence Tomography (PS-OCT). By taking advantage of the polarization properties of light, PS-OCT can provide highly detailed information about the thickness of your nerve fiber layer, the presence of fluid or blood deposits, and the overall health of your retina.

A study from the Medical University of Vienna found that PS-OCT provides a highly effective method for detecting and monitoring diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma. Another study from the Medical University of Vienna found that PS-OCT is particularly useful for evaluating retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) lesions in patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Still, more research is needed to understand the full potential of PS-OCT in clinical practice. Current evidence suggests it could significantly improve the diagnosis and treatment of many eye conditions.

How does the doctor use the image?

A retinal image creates high-quality digital photographs of the back of the eye, allowing doctors to detect early signs of eye diseases that may not be visible in a regular eye exam. When reviewing retinal images, doctors look for signs of glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment.

To diagnose glaucoma, doctors examine the optic nerve head for signs of damage. Any sign of cupping or thinning of the disc may indicate glaucoma. In age-related diagnosis of macular degeneration, doctors examine the macula for a buildup of deposits called drusen, bleeding or fluid leakage, or loss of pigment in the retina. To diagnose diabetic retinopathy, doctors look for blood vessel abnormalities, such as microaneurysms, hemorrhages, and neovascularization. Finally, to diagnose retinal detachment, doctors look for signs of retinal detachment or tearing.

In addition to eye diseases, retinal imaging can also be used as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease. The retina is considered an extension of the brain, and many studies have shown a link between Alzheimer’s disease and changes in the retina. Doctors use retinal imaging to identify specific biomarkers in the retina that may indicate Alzheimer’s disease. These biomarkers include the thinning of different layers of the retina and the accumulation of specific proteins.

Why use 3D retinal imaging over other diagnostic options?

Capturing a 3D retinal scan is incredibly detailed and comprehensive, yet remains fast, safe and completely non-invasive. It provides a painless and comfortable experience for patients. During the scan, patients rest their chin on a chin rest while the scanning device captures multiple images of their eyes.

The captured images can be saved and saved for future use, allowing comparison with subsequent scans to monitor overall eye health.

3D retinal scans have revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. They play an important role in detecting serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions often have no symptoms in their early stages, making them difficult to see with traditional diagnostic techniques. 3D retinal scans can identify these problems early, allowing doctors to begin treatment early and prevent significant vision loss.

These scans can also detect other diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Fudan University in Shanghai has conducted a detailed study on the potential of retinal imaging in diagnosing health problems. The findings show that healthcare professionals can detect abnormalities indicative of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Retinal imaging reveals thinning of the retinal nerve fiber layer and the inner retinal layer, as well as reduced capillary density and an abnormal vasodilatory response, all linked to the progressive deterioration of the brain. Early detection allows for prompt treatment, slowing the progression of this debilitating condition. Retinal imaging holds promise for changing the way doctors diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease.

In conclusion, 3D retinal scans have transformed the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. They are fast, safe and non-invasive and provide detailed information about the internal structures of the eye. Their ability to detect eye disease at its earliest stages gives them a significant advantage over traditional diagnostic techniques, making them indispensable tools for preserving and protecting patients’ vision.

To learn more about the eye, read more stories at www.williamhaseltine.com

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