Engineers at the UK Astronomy Technology Center (UKATC), who are used to designing space-based telescopes, are applying their knowledge to develop a diagnostic test for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
The engineers typically design and make instruments to detect faint light from distant stars and galaxies. However, they are collaborating with scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences to develop a “retinal densitometer,” which can pick up the earliest stages of AMD by measuring how the eye responds to light.
One of the earliest signs of AMD is a change in the way the light sensitive pigments in the macula regenerate after exposure to light. The densitometer developed by the team can assess this change by measuring the very small changes in the amount of light reflected by the retina after exposure.
The Retinal Densitometer measures the way the eye “dark adapts” after exposure to a bright light. It has several distinct advantages when compared to existing detection techniques, including its sensitivity and ability to measure responses to light from different parts of the retina.
Early tests with the new device on 10 patients with early stage AMD and 10 controls have shown that light changes in the macula can be highly accurately measured using this technology.
“Space technology doesn’t just tell us more about the universe — it also has applications right here on earth,” said Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts. “This project is very promising for patients and shows that, by working across disciplines, scientists and engineers can develop innovative new solutions for a whole range of issues, including healthcare.”