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Engineering a better method of screening for eye disease

New research by a team of engineers and ophthalmologists at The Ohio State University could lead to more accurate screening and monitoring of glaucoma and other debilitating eye diseases.

Led by Biomedical Engineering Professor Cynthia Roberts, the study has received a $1.925 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the separate effects of corneal stiffness and intraocular pressure (IOP) on the biomechanical assessment of the eye.

Graduate student Audrey Nguyen (left) and Professor Cynthia Roberts (right) review the alignment of donor eye tripod mount relative to device which delivers an air puff to the cornea of the donor eye. The device is similar to one used clinically to asses biomechanical response to air puff induced deformation.

IOP, or the pressure inside the eye, is an important factor when assessing risk for eye disease, particularly glaucoma, explained Roberts, who is also a professor of ophthalmology & visual science at Ohio State. Current measurement techniques – such as the common puff-of-air test which causes the cornea to deform – can render inaccurate pressure readings if a cornea is abnormally stiff or soft. For example, an eye with a soft cornea and high IOP may have a stiffer response than a normal cornea at lower IOP.

“The higher the IOP, the stiffer the behavior,” said Roberts. “That’s a problem because how do you know when this deformation is measured, if it’s due to stiffness or IOP? You can’t tell, so one of the most important goals of this grant is to separate stiffness from IOP in these clinical deformation parameters.”

Roberts said the team will also explore ways to measure corneal stiffness specifically.

Roberts’ co-investigators include Jun Liu, professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology, and Drs. Paul Weber and Matthew Ohr of the Havener Eye Institute at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Biomedical engineering graduate student Audrey Nguyen is also contributing to the study.

The study will involve two phases. Using a novel stiffness parameter, Roberts and her colleagues will compare deformation responses of paired donor eyes in a controlled lab setting where stiffness can be altered and measured. Clinical testing will follow at Wexner Medical Center to examine the responses in patients with keratoconus, glaucoma, ocular hypertension and diabetes, as well as those with healthy eyes.