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Laser scanner diagnoses eye diseases before vision loss occurs

03 Jan 2018

SFU University (Canada) develops novel retinal imaging technology, which could revolutionize eyecare.

Engineering scientist Marinko Sarunic of Canada’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) has developed a new type of retinal imaging scanner, which he says could revolutionize eye care, helping ophthalmologists diagnose eye diseases before vision loss occurs.

Sarunic’s high-resolution laser scanner can produce high-resolution, 3-D cross-section images of the retina — including individual photoreceptors, and fine capillaries, or blood vessels. Unlike other high-resolution retinal scanners, which are typically measure several meters across, Sarunic’s system is the size of a shoe box, making it suitable for everyday use in medical clinics and hospitals.

He commented, “It represents a breakthrough in clinical diagnostics. With the high-resolution scanner, ophthalmologists and optometrists can detect damage and changes to small numbers of individual photoreceptors, giving them a diagnosis before the patient loses vision, and the potential to take preventative measures.”

The technology is not invasive, so physicians could use the scanner frequently to monitor the retina for changes or to detect whether medications are working. Currently, physicians must use low-resolution scanners, which can only assess and diagnose the cause of dead retina cells after a patient has lost vision.

During the past year, ophthalmologists at Vancouver General Hospital’s Eye Care Centre spent eight months testing Sarunic’s high-resolution scanner.

Saving sight

Dr. Eduardo Navajas, a vitreoretinal specialist, commented that the scanner eliminates the need for, and the complications related to, dye injections that are currently used to diagnose and monitor eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy and wet age-related macular degeneration. These are the two most common causes of vision loss.

“Early detection of abnormal blood vessels caused by Wet AMD and diabetes is essential to saving a patient’s vision,” said Navajas. “Dr. Sarunic’s new imaging technology is benefiting patients, allowing us to diagnose and treat Wet AMD and diabetic eye disease before patients develop bleeding and permanent damage to their retina.”

Sarunic is now developing another version of the scanner that ophthalmologists can use for image-guided operations. “As data is pulled off the scanner it presents the results to the physician, providing guidance during surgery,” he said. “As they operate on eye tissue or do laser-based changes, they can track what they’re doing.”

Sarunic’s research stems from previous jobs in industry, where he developed fibre optics projects for telecommunications companies. He joined SFU in 2006 to pursue applied research that could have real impact on peoples’ health.

He is now working with the SFU Innovation Office to commercialize his scanner technology. He conducted his research with grants from: Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Alzheimer Society of Canada, Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation, Brain Canada, Genome Canada, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness.


In SFU’s Biomedical Optics Research Group lab, engineering science professor Marinko Sarunic and his team are developing a system that allows clinicians to look deeper into the eye to catch early warning signs of diseases such as glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, affecting about three million Canadians and more than 60 million people worldwide. Known as the silent thief of sight, it slowly damages the optic nerve and retina, and can cause irreversible harm before symptoms become noticeable.

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