NJIT Professors Receive Grant To Improve Monitoring of Glaucoma
Gordon Thomas, Ph.D., distinguished research professor of applied physics, who leads the NJIT team, will work with Richard Greene, M.D., Ph.D., Becton-Dickinson professor of biomedical engineering, Avid Kamgar, Ph.D., research professor of physics, and Tara Alvarez, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Robert Fechtner, M.D., director of the glaucoma division at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, will help develop and test two medical devices that can save the vision of glaucoma patients.
"We are excited at the prospect that we can help doctors monitor glaucoma," Thomas says, "and thus improve prevention of blindness."
Glaucoma, a group of diseases affecting three million Americans, is marked by increased eye pressure - known as intra-ocular pressure (IOP), which damages the optic nerve. Unless caught and treated quickly, the pressure can cause vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma patients generally have their eye pressure tested every three or four months by their doctors. But studies have shown that much more frequent testing can prevent vision loss in some patients.
The first device the research team is developing, a self-tonometer, will allow glaucoma patients to measure their own eye pressure frequently in their own homes. The tonometer will use a technology -- piezo-spectroscopy -- to measure the pressure inside the eye. Patients can take their own eye pressure by simply touching the tonometer to their eyelids.
The current preferred methods of obtaining pressure involve touching the patient's cornea directly and require pain medication. But the new tonometer is not painful and will allow patients to test themselves without drugs.
In addition, eye pressure varies during the day, and the tonometer will allow patients to measure that fluctuation. If a patient gets a high-pressure reading, which can harm his vision, he'll be instructed to call his doctors.
The second device the team is developing, a retinal mapper, will map areas of the retina damaged by obstructed blood flow. The device will "take movies of the inside of the eye," Thomas says. It will map the changing pattern of tissues inside a patient's eye and show how the changes relate to variations in his heartbeat.
The pressure in the eye is related to the heartbeat, and the team will measure the relationship between heartbeat and eye pressure, thus providing new information about cell damage and glaucoma, Thomas says. It will also record subtle changes in the retina, which occur more slowly but cannot be seen ordinarily and also serve as early indicators of glaucoma and other eye diseases.
The National Medical Technology Testbed, Inc., was established as part of Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC), Loma Linda, California, in March 1992 as a prototype defense conversion program and incorporated as a private nonprofit public benefit organization the following year. Initially, funding was first made available to NMTB by Congress "for laboratory and other efforts associated with research, development, and other programs of major importance to the Department of Defense." NMTB's objective has been to develop a comprehensive suite of deliverable technologies that would improve military and civilian health care delivery.
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