• National Institutes of Health
    Comprehensive Ophthalmology, Glaucoma, Retina/Vitreous

    The National Eye Institute has awarded $3.8 million to 5 projects focused on developing new technology to noninvasively image the eye at the cellular level.

    The NEI created the Audacious Goals Initiative to facilitate cross-disciplinary research that pushes the boundaries of vision science and finds a way to restore vision through regeneration of the retina. NEI has committed $3.8 million to the projects in 2015 and up to $17.9 million over the next five years, pending the availability of funds.

    “These ambitious projects will give us a window into the visual system,” said NEI director Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD. “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 5 projects chosen to pave the way for the audacious goal of restoring vision to the blind include:

    • designing a system to map the interaction of cells in the retina. The project, “Interferometric Optophysiology of the Human Retina,” whose principal investigator is Austin Roorda, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, will incorporate eye tracking components and adaptive optics;
    • designing an optical system to image responses to light of large numbers of individual cells in the retina. The project, “Accelerating Vision Restoration with In-vivo Cellular Imaging of Retinal Function,” uses a fluorescent marker that can detect cellular calcium fluxes, and two-photon microscopy. The team, led by David Williams, PhD, of the University of Rochester Center for Visual Science in New York, expects to test the system in conjunction with 3 approaches to vision restoration: preserving photoreceptors with gene therapy, replacing lost photoreceptors using stem cells, and genetically re-engineering cells other than photoreceptors to respond to light;
    • developing a two-photon microscope capable of measuring the metabolism and distribution of vitamin A derivatives within photoreceptors at baseline in various retinal diseases and in response to potential therapies. The project, “A Two-photon Ophthalmoscope for Human Retinal Imaging and Functional Testing,” is led by Krzysztof Palczewski, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland;
    • adapting diffusion basis spectrum imaging and diffusion functional magnetic resonance imaging to noninvasively visualize the optic nerve. The system developed by this project, “Imaging Optic Nerve Function and Pathology,” could be used to monitor how a patient’s optic nerve responds to a new therapy without the need for biopsy. The principal investigators are Kwei Song, PhD, and Yong Wang, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis;
    • and developing a suite of core technologies that will advance and increase the usability of next-generation retinal cameras. The technologies developed by this project, “Platform Technologies for Microscopic Retinal Imaging: Development and Translation,” will include real-time eye motion stabilization, image resolution doubling, a tunable lens to improve the focusing of all colors of light, and high-throughput methods for testing the function of individual cells. The principal investigators are Alfredo Dubra, PhD, and Joseph Carroll, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.