New tech detects early signs of vision loss due to diabetes

Researchers at Indiana University have deployed new technology to detect early warning signs of vision loss associated with diabetes.

"By relying on standard examination techniques, we are undoubtedly missing the earliest damage."

While examining volunteers whose eyes were not thought to have advanced disease, researchers actually found widespread damage across the retina. This damage included blood vessel changes believed to occur in more advanced stages of the disease.

The researchers worked with an instrument based on adaptive optics, designed and built by Stephen Burns, Ph.D., associate dean at the IU School of Optometry. The instrument uses small mirrors with tiny moveable segments to reflect light into the eye.

A. Paul Chous, O.D., who specializes in diabetes eye care and education and is AOA's representative to the National Diabetes Education Program, is "excited about the possibilities this technology offers for earlier, better care of patients with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy and other retinal vascular diseases."

Jay Haynie, O.D., AOA member and the executive clinical director for Retina and Macula Specialists in Washington state, was impressed by the technology and the role it could potentially play in managing diabetic retinopathy.  

"Early detection in any retinal disease is associated with a better plan for treatment, counseling and a more defined follow-up guideline to the practitioner," says Haynie.

Instrument detects early changes
Dr. Chous explains that current techniques are unable to detect the earliest changes in the eye because of the continuous and variable wavefront aberrations inherent in the optics of a patient's eye.

But adaptive optics instruments such as Dr. Burns' device can overcome these aberrations, Dr. Chous says. "[They] provide unparalleled visual detail of retinal microvascular anatomy."

Dr. Haynie also notes, "This technology could motivate the patient to obtain better control of his/her diabetes rather than be used as a guide to ophthalmic treatment."

This new research and instrument could increase the growing role optometrists play in providing medical care for patients affected by diabetes. Both Dr. Chous and Dr. Haynie believe further research on this technology is warranted, as more questions need to be answered.

"The bottom line is that by relying on standard examination techniques, we are undoubtedly missing the earliest damage caused by diabetic retinopathy and an opportunity to intervene more aggressively in patients with definitive disease who otherwise appear normal," Dr. Chous says.

More resources for ODs
The AOA offers a wealth of information regarding how optometrists can better care for patients with diabetes, including the supplement Optometrists Form Front Line in Battling Diabetes and the Evidence-Based Optometry Committee's Guidelines, Eye Care for the Patient with Diabetes Mellitus.

May 20, 2014

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