Biomedical engineers at Duke University in North Carolina have developed a low-cost, portable optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanner that promises to bring the vision-saving technology to underserved regions throughout the United States and abroad. Thanks to a redesigned, 3D-printed spectrometer, the scanner is 15 times lighter and smaller than current commercial systems (image shows example of a typically bulky current commercial system) and is made from parts costing less than a tenth the retail price of commercial systems -- all without sacrificing imaging quality. In its first clinical trial, the new OCT scanner produced images of 120 retinas that were 95 percent as sharp as those taken by current commercial systems, which was sufficient for accurate clinical diagnosis. The results were published online on June 28, 2019 in Translational Vision Science & Technology, an ARVO journal. The open-access article is titled “First Clinical Application of Low-Cost OCT." In use since the 1990s, OCT imaging has become the standard of care for the diagnosis of many retinal diseases, including macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, as well as for glaucoma. However, OCT is rarely included as part of a standard screening exam because machines can cost more than $100,000 -- meaning that usually only larger eye centers have them. "Once you have lost vision, it's very difficult to get it back, so the key to preventing blindness is early detection," said Adam Wax, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke. "Our goal is to make OCT drastically less expensive so more clinics can afford the devices, especially in global health settings." OCT is the optical analogue of ultrasound, which works by sending sound waves into tissues and measuring how long the waves take to come back.
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