Research

Three blind mice, see how they...  react to lasers?

May 1, 2008

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By Barry Shell

Marinko Sarunic recently had three blind mice in his lab, but unlike the nursery rhyme he didn’t cut off their tales with a carving knife.

The SFU engineering science assistant professor merely shined a harmless laser beam into the rodents’ eyes while testing a remarkable new non-invasive retinal imaging system he’s developing for the early diagnosis of eye disease.

Sarunic’s system employs an imaging technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to observe abnormalities within the retina, the dense layer of nerves and light receptors at the very back of the eyeball.

OCT is similar to ultrasound, except it uses echoes of light instead of echoes of sound. Sarunic’s system uses light from a super-luminescent LED (light-emitting diode) at infrared frequencies mostly invisible to the human eye to create a 3D microscopic view of the tissue at the back of the eyeball.

Human tissue is semi-transparent to infrared light so the light can penetrate about two millimeters below the surface of the retina where most retinal anomalies occur.

"I started working on this during my PhD," says Sarunic. The Coquitlam native earned both his BSc and MSc in engineering physics at SFU followed by a PhD at Duke University and postdoctoral research at CalTech before returning to teach at SFU’s School of Engineering Science in 2006.

The imaging system Sarunic first developed for his PhD is now in use at Duke’s eye clinic and he hopes to have a new improved version in place at a UBC eye clinic in a year or two.

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