BC vision breakthrough

A British Columbia engineering science professor has developed a high-resolution scanner that he says will revolutionize how eye diseases are diagnosed to prevent vision loss.

Prof. Marinko Sarunic of Simon Fraser University said doctors currently use low-resolution scanners that can assess the cause of patients' dead retina cells.

"Because the resolution is low, they don't detect small changes, they detect big changes," he said. "What we want is to see the changes to the retinal structure before they're obvious in a person's vision."

A scanner built on billiard-sized tables is now used at a few universities in the world for research purposes but it's too big and complicated for routine diagnosis of diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and wet age-related macular degeneration, Sarunic said.

"The problem is the technology is so inaccessible that it's not in a place where it can help. We want to bring the technology to the clinics, to the front lines, where it does have the potential to help."

Compared with the large, hard-to-use research scanner, his is about the size of a shoe box and uses medical imaging, or optical coherence tomography, for 3-D cross-sectional images of the retina, Sarunic said.

The technology is being licensed to a B.C.-based startup company that's working on commercializing it with the help of an American backer.

Only two other groups are working on similar technology, one in Boston and another in Austria, Sarunic said.

"It's very unique, still, worldwide," he said of the scanner he has spent a decade developing as part of his research with ophthalmologists and vision scientists.

It was tested for eight months at Vancouver General Hospital in 2016 and again for about three months this year and has been well received for its ability to produce images of fine capillaries, blood vessels and photoreceptors, the light-sensitive cells in the retina akin to pixels in a photograph.

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