With a goal to restore vision to the blind, the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has announced five projects that will develop new technology to noninvasively image cells of the eye in unprecedented detail. The NEI works to find cures for blinding diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, among others.
The NEI has committed $3.8 million to five projects in the Audacious Goals Initiative and up to $17.9 million over the next five years, pending funds availability.
The main goal is to restore vision by regenerating neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system, with emphasis on retina cells including light-sensitive rod and cone photoreceptors and retinal ganglion cells which connect photoreceptors to the brain via the optic nerve. “These ambitious projects will give us a window into the visual system,” NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, said in a news release. “Tools developed will enhance the study of functional changes in the retina and optic nerve, in real time and at the cellular level, and will be indispensable when evaluating new regenerative therapies for eye diseases.”
The five projects include:
Interferometric Optophysiology of the Human Retina — researchers are designing a system to map the interaction of cells in the retina. Scientists will be able to stimulate individual neurons and observe other cells as they become active in response, explaining how the retina processes visual information before it is sent to the brain.
Accelerating Vision Restoration with In-vivo Cellular Imaging of Retinal Function — researchers are designing an optical system to image responses to light of large numbers of individual cells in the retina. The system uses a fluorescent marker to detect cellular calcium fluxes and two-photon microscopy, which uses infrared light to detect the fluorescent signals without tissue damage. Researchers plan to test the system in collaboration with investigators exploring vision restoration.
Two-photon Ophthalmoscope for Human Retinal Imaging and Functional Testing — the tool is used to visually monitor vitamin A derivatives of the retina. Many inherited retinal diseases involve mutations that affect the retina’s ability to use vitamin A.
Imaging Optic Nerve Function and Pathology — uses diffusion basis spectrum imaging and diffusion functional magnetic resonance imaging to noninvasively visualize the optic nerve.
Platform Technologies for Microscopic Retinal Imaging: Development and Translation — will use core technologies that will advance and increase the usability of next-generation retinal cameras using real-time eye motion stabilization, image resolution doubling, a tunable lens to improve focusing of allcolors of light, and high-throughput methods for testing individual cell function.
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