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New Optics View Stars in the Sky - and in Your Eyes

A Milwaukee doctor uses the same technology as astronomers to intervene early on in eye disease.

Credit Medical College of Wisconsin
Dr. Joseph Carroll reviewing the results of adaptive optics imaging with technician Brian Higgins and neuroscience student Melissa Wilk.

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A Milwaukee researcher is using a technology often linked to the way we see distant stars and planets and applying it to the way we see, period.

Joe Carroll specializes in using what are known as "adaptive optics" to diagnose and potentially deal with eye disease.

He says the technique allows researchers to correct for imperfections when they are trying to image something - whether it be a planet or an eyeball.

"In the case of astronomy when you are trying to image stars or planets or satellites, the imperfections come from the earths atmosphere," he says. "That technology was transferred to ophthalmology when you're trying to image the inside of the eye. Those imperfections come from the cornea or the lens, or the front part of the eye. So adaptive optics can be used to correct for those imperfections as well."

Carroll says that ophthalmologists could use adaptive optics sort of as a mirror to temporarily "fix" how the front part of the eye is distorting light. That would allow a doctor to get a high-resolution image of the eye.

This could help doctors identify eye problems - sometimes before a patient even notices anything is wrong.

"By the time a patient notices - in many cases - that they have a problem with their vision, significant damage has already occurred to their retina," he says, "and in some cases and some diseases - maybe half of the cells in the retina are gone, and they're not coming back."

Many patients won't see their eye doctors until they go in for a regular check-up. But adaptive optics could allow doctors can more easily detect diseases earlier in their progress, particularly if they know a patient is susceptible to an eye disease.

Carroll, who is co-director of the Advanced Ocular Imaging Program at the Medical College of Wisconsin's Eye Institute, says there are only about two dozen of these adaptive optics in the world. He's working to get more doctors on board with the technology.

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