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VISE affiliates awarded $2.3M NIH grant to combat childhood blindness

A team of Vanderbilt engineers are working to breach the critical barrier to timely clinical intervention of blindness in preterm infants.

One of the major causes of childhood blindness is a rapidly growing retinal vascular disease called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). “Clinical intervention options for ROP exist, but our limited ability to detect ROP and track its progression causes major challenges,” said Ipek Oguz, assistant professor of computer science.

Ipek Oguz

“Optical coherence tomographic angiography (OCTA) is an excellent modality for imaging the retinal blood vessels in adults, but it’s difficult to use in infants because they can’t sit upright and fixate for image acquisition. Handheld OCTA devices offer an alternative solution, but then you get lower image quality because of motion artifacts, so you also need custom image processing algorithms to extract useful diagnostic information from the images,” Oguz said.

For this project, Point-of-care ophthalmic diagnostic imaging of retinopathy of prematurity, Oguz received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Collaborators include co-PI and engineer Yuankai Kenny Tao and physician Irina De la Huerta. Tao is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. De la Huerta is an assistant professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

Kenny Tao

Several other research groups have demonstrated the benefits of handheld ophthalmic imaging technologies over the last five to ten years. “The unique advantage here is really in the integration of a novel imaging device with image-processing algorithms,” Tao explained.

“We’re building a novel multimodality handheld system—imaging the retina with two complementary technologies simultaneously—to enable robust aiming, tracking and mosaicking,” Tao said. “These are all critical barriers in current-generation handheld systems, especially those designed to image infant eyes. The goal is to overcome them with our combination of hardware and software solutions.”

This research is supported by a National Institutes of Health R01 grant 1R01EY033969-01A1.