Window to the soul: ultrafast microscope to help tackle glaucoma

3 August 2018

A microscope that may help the study of glaucoma has been developed.

Glaucoma is an eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside the eye. It can happen at any age and without early detection, can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.

Professor Christopher Leung (Croucher Fellowship 2006) is working on a project to develop an ultrafast 3D microscope that can be used in studying eye.

The idea is to apply the technology of a digital micromirror device on a traditional two-photon excitation microscopes. Digital micromirror device chips can be found in an ordinary projector and can vastly enhance the speed of imaging and make 3D microscopic images possible.

With improved speed and 3D imaging, the new microscope can produce videos that trace in real time the subtle neural degeneration in glaucoma and other eye diseases. “The new microscope can locate 20 focal points instead of just one in conventional ones. It can also make 32,000 images per second on different depths of the object,” said Leung.

The device also has interactive features that allow doctors to strengthen the laser to shape structures in the eye, or nano-fabrication, for surgery.

The most unique part of the new invention is the digital holography that creates a 3D image. After all, there is no 2D organ in our body.

It could track inter-cell metabolic activities by tracing the NADH, a product of respiration that can send out feeble but detectable fluorescence under the microscope. If the intensity of the light drops, the cell is considered degenerating as in the case of the retinal cells of a glaucoma patient.

The team has successfully developed a prototype earlier in June. A major challenge is turning the concept into a workable system. "It took the team three to four years to create a system to control the microscope, but it is still very difficult to arrive at a user interface," said Leung. In particular, the team has to work on making the prototype user-friendly and build a suitable platform for the microscope.

Further trials will be conducted at the Hong Kong Eye Hospital. “Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide,” Leung noted. “If the trials prove successful, the device will greatly help doctors to diagnose, monitor, and devise treatments to improve or even regenerate the patient’s eyesight.”

Leung said the penetration power of the microscope are not strong enough to probe other parts of the body except the eyes, but doctors hope the devices can also be used in examining the brain.

Professor Leung is a clinician-scientist with research focus on glaucoma management and investigation. He received the Degree of Doctor of Medicine five years after completing his undergraduate medical training in Hong Kong. He was then awarded the Croucher Foundation Fellowship and completed a clinical and research fellowship in glaucoma at the Hamilton Glaucoma Center, the University of California, San Diego.

To view Professor Leung's Croucher profile, please click here