Home Medizin Das bahnbrechende 20-Millionen-Dollar-OCT-Projekt zielt darauf ab, das Screening der Augengesundheit zu revolutionieren

Das bahnbrechende 20-Millionen-Dollar-OCT-Projekt zielt darauf ab, das Screening der Augengesundheit zu revolutionieren

von NFI Redaktion

In the United States, more than a quarter of adults over the age of 40 suffer from an eye disease, including glaucoma, cataracts, or age-related macular degeneration, or a chronic condition that affects the eyes, such as diabetic retinopathy. These diseases pose a burden to individuals‘ health and the healthcare system. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent more than 90% of severe vision loss.

Chao Zhou, a professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has been working on improving optical coherence tomography (OCT) systems, which can enable high-resolution imaging of the eye. With a contract of up to $20 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), he plans to develop a portable OCT system based on photonic integrated circuits (PIC) and customized electronic integrated circuits, which could allow advanced eye examinations for many more patients at lower costs. The technology could also be used in other applications, such as cardiology, dermatology, dentistry, endoscopy, and urology.

The contract is part of the first call for proposals from ARPA-H for unconventional approaches to improving health outcomes in patient populations, communities, diseases, and health conditions through groundbreaking research and technological advancements. It’s the first ARPA-H award granted to Washington University.

Conventional OCT systems are expensive, complex, bulky, and labor-intensive to assemble and calibrate. The proposed system would weigh a few pounds, create high-resolution 3D scans of the retina in less than a second, and cost a fraction of traditional systems.

„The integration of photonic and electronic integrated circuits simplifies the assembly process and reduces production costs, making OCT accessible to a broader range of healthcare facilities and patients. Additionally, integrating components on a photonic chip enhances overall stability and robustness, making these systems less susceptible to environmental influences and wear, ensuring longer lifespan and lower maintenance costs.“.

Chao Zhou, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, McKelvey School of Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis

Zhou’s group developed the spatial-division multiplexing optical coherence tomography (SDM-OCT), a technique that captures several high-resolution OCT images simultaneously with a single detector and is at least ten times faster than existing OCT scanners, reducing the potential for errors caused by patient movements. However, assembling components for each channel in these systems was time-consuming and labor-intensive, limiting their broad application.

With ARPA-H funding, Zhou and his team will integrate the components into a photonic chip and leverage advancements in complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) processes used in the semiconductor industry, streamlining manufacturing and reducing costs. Once the device is functional, they will conduct studies with adult and pediatric patients.

The proposed system is more than 50 times faster than existing state-of-the-art commercial OCT systems and at a fraction of the cost, say the researchers. By optimizing and integrating photonic and electronic circuits, the researchers can create an integrated imaging and signal processing engine, extending its benefits to other areas of healthcare, such as glucose measurement and portable skin imaging devices.

Collaborating with Zhou are:

  • Shu-Wei Huang, Assistant Professor of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder;
  • Aravind Nagulu, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering;
  • Rithwick Rajagopal, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine;
  • Margaret Reynolds, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine; and
  • Lan Yang, Edwin H. & Florence G. Skinner Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Yang said their long-term interest is to convert knowledge in photonics research into technologies and tangible products with far-reaching societal impact, with applications in healthcare being at the top of their agenda.

„I’m excited to be part of this interdisciplinary team aiming to develop a new OCT system with capabilities and features enabled by advances in nanofabrication processes for optoelectronic devices driven by various industries, from telecommunications to data centers to consumer electronics,“ said Yang. „Our proposed portable OCT system based on photonic integrated circuits (PIC) will enable advanced and cost-effective eye screening and extend its benefits to other medical areas.“

Rajagopal said that for 15 years, ophthalmologists have been benefiting from the diagnostic insights of OCT technology, but systems are limited by scanning speed and field of view.

„I am excited about the potential clinical benefits that Dr. Zhou’s new system may offer over currently available systems,“ said Rajagopal. „We may therefore be able to scan patients who cannot cooperate with traditional eye imaging, including young children and adults with disabilities, without the need for pupillary dilation or sedated examinations.“

The team will collaborate with commercial foundries to manufacture the photonic and electronic integrated circuits.

„This fully integrated PIC-OCT system not only exceeds conventional OCT systems but also exhibits excellent manufacturability and robustness, reducing the devices‘ footprint,“ said Zhou. „Mass production would significantly decrease manufacturing costs and pave the way for widespread adoption in the future.“

While the team already holds multiple US and international patents related to SDM-OCT, they are working with Washington University’s Office of Technology Management on patent applications for the improved design. They will also collaborate with the ARPA-H Project Accelerator Transition Innovation Office and the Food & Drug Administration on regulatory considerations to pave the way for future clinical implementation.

„I am thrilled to be part of this world-class team and pursue this ambitious project, which will make OCT a real point-of-care solution,“ said Huang. „It’s a perfect example of how PIC technology can revolutionize other areas beyond communication and computing.“


Washington University in St. Louis

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