Public Release: 

University of Leicester takes delivery of unique eye imaging equipment

New technology will help scientists study eye disorders in infants, thanks to charitable donations

University of Leicester

Generous donations from eye charities have allowed the University of Leicester to buy a unique piece of retinal imaging equipment - the only one of its kind in the UK. The handheld retinal scanner will allow new research into eye disorders such as nystagmus, a condition that causes involuntary twitching movements of the eyes.

The device is particularly useful for studying the eyes of young children, who often miss out on diagnoses because standard equipment is unsuitable for use with infants. Nystagmus in children is currently poorly understood, but research in the area is difficult because of the challenges involved in taking complex visual images of the eyes of babies and small children.

Nystagmus Network, the Ulverscoft Foundation and the Medical Research Council all contributed funds to allow the Ophthalmology Group at the University of Leicester to purchase a handheld UHR SD-OCT (ultrahigh-resolution spectral-domain optical coherence tomography) scanner, manufactured by US firm Bioptigen. The device can create highly detailed three dimensional maps of the inside of the eye, including the retina - the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inner eye and facilitates vision.

Because the new imager is handheld and portable, it is ideal for use on small children.

Dr Eric Buckland of Bioptigen, who developed the imager, delivered the equipment to Professor Irene Gottlob, Professor of Ophthalmology and head of the Ophthalmology Research Group at the University of Leicester. Professor Gottlob has conducted extensive research into eye disorders and has published over 130 academic papers on the subject.

Professor Gottlob said: "Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) has revolutionised diagnosis and treatment for adult patients with eye diseases over the last decade. So far children have been deprived of this technology, so we are thrilled to have an OCT device which can be used in small children and infants.

"In Leicester we are using the instrument for clinical diagnosis and research. We are using it for many of our young patients and have been able to make several diagnoses which would have been much more difficult and involved many more tests without the OCT. I think that OCT will soon be widely used to help to diagnose and mange many eye problems in children.

"As the retina of infants is not fully developed we need first to establish how the normal retina develops. My research fellow Helena Lee and orthoptist in the department are working around the clock to press forward the research and clinical use. We are extremely grateful that the charities have made the purchase possible and appreciate the assistance of the University's Development and Alumni Relations Office in preparing our appeal to the Ulverscroft Foundation. Philanthropic funding is increasingly important in helping the University to achieve new research breakthroughs and translate new knowledge for the benefit of patients. The invaluable gift of £8,000 from the Ulverscroft Foundation helped to achieve our appeal goal for this important project."

Nystagmus is a condition of involuntary eye movements which can seriously impair vision. Sufferers often have difficulty focusing or reading, and may experience problems with balance or depth perception. Many cannot drive and face daily challenges associated with poor vision. Some types of nystagmus can be treated with medication or surgery.

Nystagmus occurs in children and adults, and can either be congenital (inherited) or the result of some form of neurological (brain) injury. In some cases, nystagmus can occur because the central part of the retina has not fully developed, as can happen with nystagmus associated with albinism. The OCT device can help researchers image this kind of condition and thereby improve medical understanding and treatment.

The University's new equipment will greatly improve research into congenital infant nystagmus, providing valuable new insights into the condition that could help sufferers of all ages. The new handheld, portable scanner is ideal for imaging the eyes of young children, and will allow scientists at the University of Leicester to study infant retinal development and its relation to nystagmus and other eye disorders.

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Notes for editors:

Professor Gottlob can be contacted on email: ig15@le.ac.uk or via her secretary on Tel: 0116 258 6291.

For more information about Professor Gottlob and her work, please see her University biography here: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/cardiovascular-sciences/people/gottlob-i

Nystagmus Network was established in 1984 and is a registered charity. The network is run by individuals and families affected by nystagmus with the aim of supporting those with the condition and promoting further research . They also work with professionals such as ophthalmologists, carers and teachers to help them understand the problems caused by nystagmus. View their website here: http://www.nystagmusnet.org/Home.htm

The Ulverscoft Foundation was founded by Dr. Frederick A. Thorpe, O.B.E. and is a registered charity serving the needs of the visually impaired. The Ulverscoft Foundation offers funding to Ophthalmology Departments in order to facilitate greater research into eye diseases and vision problems. View their website here: http://www.foundation.ulverscroft.com/index.html

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk

Bioptigen is a specialist company working in the USA to develop advanced real-time, non-invasive optical imaging techniques. Read more about the company and founders on their website: http://www.bioptigen.com/about.html

Nystagmus is a condition of involuntary eye movements which can seriously impair vision. Sufferers often have difficulty focusing or reading, and may experience problems with balance or depth perception. Many cannot drive and face daily challenges associated with poor vision. Some types of nystagmus can be treated with medication or surgery.

Nystagmus occurs in children and adults, and can either be congenital (inherited) or the result of some form of neurological (brain) injury. In some cases, nystagmus can occur because the central part of the retina has not fully developed, as can happen with nystagmus associated with albinism. The OCT device can help researchers image this kind of condition and thereby improve medical understanding and treatment.

The University's new equipment will greatly improve research into congenital infant nystagmus, providing valuable new insights into the condition that could help sufferers of all ages. The new handheld, portable scanner is ideal for imaging the eyes of young children, and will allow scientists at the University of Leicester to study infant retinal development and its relation to nystagmus and other eye disorders.

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