Adaptive optics technology provides powerful tools for eye doctors

SANTA CRUZ, CA--The same technology that astronomers are using to sharpen the images from ground-based telescopes is also giving eye specialists better techniques for studying and correcting human vision.

Some of the technology derived from adaptive optics (AO) research is already being used by ophthalmologists to measure aberrations in the eye with unprecedented accuracy, and it may not be long before AO-based devices replace the conventional phoropter used to calculate prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. In addition, researchers are using adaptive optics technology to obtain extraordinary views of microscopic structures in the eyes of human subjects.

"Our goal is to develop low-cost AO systems for clinical use by ophthalmologists. That's definitely on the horizon, but first we need to reduce the cost and the size of the instruments," said David Williams, director of the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester.

Williams is an associate director of the national Center for Adaptive Optics, which plays a key role in transferring information about developments in adaptive optics from the research labs to industry and the broader scientific community. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the center is based at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has a network of partners that includes academic institutions, national laboratories, and companies in related industries.

In 1998, Williams and Austin Roorda, then a postdoctoral researcher at Rochester, used an adaptive optics ophthalmoscope to obtain the first images showing the arrangement of all three kinds of cones--the light receptors responsible for color vision--in the living human retina (the back surface inside the eye). Roorda, now at the University of Houston, has since combined adaptive optics with another technique called confocal imaging to construct an even more powerful instrument: the adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope

Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz

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