The eye is nature’s unique “window” that opens in two different ways, leading to entirely different realms. On the one hand, it allows us to observe the external world, and on the other, it enables us to peer inside – into the depths of our bodies, spotting the signs of developing diseases. Unfortunately, more than 280 million people worldwide suffer from malfunctioning eyes. Aging, air pollution, poor hygiene, injuries, and genetic predispositions gradually close our window to the world.
“The human eye is an extraordinary organ, which by its complexity is unmatched by anything on Earth and probably in the Universe. However, it is such a sensitive organ that sooner or later, each of us will experience some problems with it,” says Prof. Dr. hab. Maciej Wojtkowski, Chair of the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER).
Medical progress has allowed us to manage vision disorders like cataracts or glaucoma quite effectively, but in the case of many vascular diseases, we are still vulnerable. Conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, or retinal vascular obstruction still mean a verdict for patients. There is a glimmer of hope carried by scientists from ICTER.
Precision tool for ophthalmologists
One of the most fundamental and accurate tests used in eye disease diagnostics is optical coherence tomography (OCT). It allows the individual eye structures to be viewed in detail, but when used for early detection of subtle pathological changes, it becomes much more challenging.
The team of scientists at ICTER decided to change that by introducing a new imaging method derived from OCT. This led to the creation of even more advanced spatio-temporal optical coherence tomography (STOC-T), which suppresses noise and enables the acquisition of precise images, thereby facilitating the diagnosis of early-stage disease changes. One of the applications of the STOC-T technology is Optoretinography (ORG).
The solution developed by ICTER is fundamental for advancing our understanding of ocular disease diagnostics. Instead of scanning the eye with coherent light (as in traditional OCT), STOC-T uses several hundred different laser patterns to illuminate the retina within nanoseconds, capturing the reactions to this light with a superfast camera. This process is explained in detail in the video “ICTER: Brightening Up Life”: https://youtu.be/Z5VoDjg-JB4.
Through the computational analysis of gigantic datasets, doctors receive more precise and sophisticated information about the eye’s condition. This method significantly improves the visualization of retina and choroid images, which until now was not possible.
“I’m conducting research aimed at finding methods for treating blindness. Eye function is more critical than structure because often in the course of a disease, we first observe changes in function preceding changes in structure. Therefore, highly sensitive measurements of eye function are crucial for monitoring and detecting pathological changes in tissue,” says Professor Olaf Strauss, an experimental biologist at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
A Breakthrough in Eye Diseases Diagnosis
This technology will allow ophthalmologists to diagnose eye diseases much faster and efficient than today. Most importantly, the patient examination itself will take only one-hundredth of a second (compared to several minutes for current OCT examinations). An ultra-fast camera, capturing 100,000 frames per second, sends gigantic data sets to a computer and allows the receptors’ response to light to be observed.
ICTER’s software processes this data and creates an image that can be compared to what a microscope provides. Currently, ICTER is studying the specific receptor movements associated with certain diseases. This will enable rapid and more precise diagnoses of many eye diseases, as well as post-therapy monitoring.
“Early diagnosis of these conditions would potentially limit their negative effects in about 90% of cases. By employing the STOC-T research method, we provide the opportunity for in-vivo studies of pharmacological therapies, supplying essential information about the quality and efficacy of proposed eye disease treatments,” explains Professor Maciej Wojtkowski, Chair of ICTER.
With STOC-T technology, a clinical research market for cutting-edge eye therapies, including gene therapies, could emerge. Furthermore, the STOC-T diagnostic equipment is compact and portable, making it suitable for any ophthalmology clinic once commercialized.
What the ICTER is?
The International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) is a research and development centre created to develop state-of-the-art technologies to support the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, facilitating the rapid implementation of new therapies. It is a subunit of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, where five research groups work on the same topic from various perspectives, continually exchanging ideas and results to achieve a high level of synergy and interdisciplinary research.
ICTER’s overarching scientific objective is to thoroughly study the dynamics and plasticity of the human eye, leading to the development of new therapies and diagnostic tools. ICTER collaborates with some of the most prestigious ophthalmological institutions in Europe and North America, including the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the University of California, Irvine. ICTER was founded by Prof. Dr. hab. Maciej Wojtkowski, a laureate of the International Research Agendas program conducted by the Foundation for Polish Science.
The Project International Centre for Translational Eye Research (MAB/2019/12) is carried out under the International Research Agendas programme by the Foundation for Polish Science, co-financed from the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund.