JANUARY 18, 2006.
Elgin Courier News - Elgin,IL,USA.
Optometrists may be able to diagnose problems that threaten vision, including macular degeneration and glaucoma, earlier than ever before with a new tool being developed by a Northern Illinois University researcher.
Elizabeth Gaillard, who holds a joint appointment in chemistry and biology at NIU, said the tool is a "souped-up" version of a machine that already is common in the offices of most eye doctors.
"You know how some people buy a car and add stuff to the engine to make it run faster?" Gaillard asked. "We kind of did that."
The machine, called an ophthalmoscope, traditionally is used to examine the eye's interior structures. A more advanced scanning laser version also can identify some specific compounds in the eye after a fluorescent dye has been injected.
Some of the compounds accumulate as a result of disease, while others are naturally present in healthy tissue.
The problem always has been, however, that ophthalmoscopes could not tell the difference between the normal compounds and the abnormal compounds. That's where Gaillard's work comes in.
"If something is unhealthy, we can see a change in its fluorescence," she said. "We can actually discriminate between that molecule and another molecule."
Gaillard's research group, which includes research scientists at Columbia University in New York and the University of Jena in Germany, has built two prototypes of the modified ophthalmoscope so far. Both machines are being used in clinical trials in Germany, although the group hopes to build two more instruments and bring one to the United States.
Gaillard estimated it would be at least five years before patients begin to see the machines in their optometrists' offices. The researchers first have to partner with a manufacturer, and the instrument needs to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
When the machine becomes available, eye experts say it may be able to help treat patients at risk for blinding diseases.
Liz Trauernicht, president of the Macular Degeneration Foundation, said early diagnoses could prompt people to quit unhealthy habits, such as smoking, that can contribute to the progression of macular degeneration. The disease is the most common cause of vision loss in the United States in people older than 50.
However, Trauernicht warned there is not much that can be done to treat people, other than prescribing vitamins.
"There is no cure," she said.
As for glaucoma, Gaillard said the most common test for the disease misses 25 percent to 30 percent of cases. She said the new high-tech ophthalmoscope may be able to reduce that number.
Dr. R. Tracy Williams, executive director of the Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation in Wheaton, added that it is possible to improve the condition of someone suffering from vision loss if it is caught early enough.
"If you can detect that a person had a vision problem," Williams said, "it naturally gets them in the hands of the specialist who can best address what might be possible to stop any proliferation."
Source URL: http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/couriernews/top/3_1_EL18_A1EYES_S1.htm.
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