High-Tech Retinal Imaging Research Gets $16.5 Million Boost

Jan. 8, 2013 – Two French research institutions — the Institut de la Vision and Institut Langevin — will receive nearly $16.5 million from the European Research Council (ERC) to advance state-of-the-art imaging technologies for gaining a better understanding of retinal diseases and developing sight-saving therapies. Known as the HELMHOLTZ project, it is one of 13 research efforts selected to receive a prestigious Synergy Grant from the ERC.

“While we are making wonderful strides in the development of therapies to eradicate blinding retinal diseases, we are also in great need of powerful, convenient and cost-effective imaging technologies to better diagnose patients and demonstrate that emerging treatments are saving vision,” says José Sahel, M.D., a Foundation-funded researcher at the Institut de la Vision. “The generous ERC grant for the HELMHOLTZ project brings us much closer to achieving that critical goal, as it will facilitate synergies between physicists led by Dr. Mathis Fink and translational vision scientists.”

The French collaborators will be advancing techniques such as Holographic laser Doppler ophthalmoscopy, which uses infrared light to obtain detailed, real-time, there-dimensional images of blood flow through retinal vessels. Another emerging technique funded by the grant is biphotonic imaging, which uses a pulsed infrared laser to investigate the highly intricate circuitry of the retina to help scientists better understand how it processes images.

In addition, major enhancements will be made to ocular coherence tomography (OCT) — an approach that employs near-infrared light to capture images of retinal structure. While OCT is widely used today in clinical settings, grant recipients will make it faster and capable of producing images of much higher resolution.

Other technologies to be developed through the HELMHOLTZ project include adaptive optics, which can capture images of individual photoreceptors, and ultrafast ultrasonography, which uses sound waves to image various components of the eye.

Dr. Sahel says that combining these powerful tools to more precisely diagnose disease and evaluate therapies is the ultimate goal of the project. “Merging these advanced technologies will provide us with an unprecedented view of the structure and function of the retina,” he explains. “The better we understand the retina and its function, the better opportunity we have to overcome the blinding diseases that affect it.”

The project was named after Hermann von Helmholtz, who, in addition to making many ophthalmic and physics discoveries, developed the ophthalmoscope in 1851. The device continues to be widely used today by eye doctors to examine the inside of the eye. HELMHOLTZ is also the acronym for the project — it stands for Holistic Evaluation of Light and Multiwave applications to High resolution imaging in Ophthalmic Translational research: revisiting the HelmoltZian synergies.