A team of two UH professors and an engineer from the University of Texas at Austin has received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research eye care improvement.
Kirill Larin, associate professor of biomedical engineering, is a part of this team and has been helping with preparations to create a prototype for a device that will shoot a focused puff of air directly into the cornea, allowing for a more precise measurement of the eye’s biomechanical properties.
There are several eye diseases that could alter certain properties of the cornea, thereby changing its shape and rigidity. There is not a reliable method to accurately measure the effects of these changes, making effective treatment of these diseases difficult.
The preliminary findings show that accuracy is possible. The team is very collaborative, Larin said.
“It’s basically three groups combined together to solve this problem,” Larin said.
Larin is collaborating with assistant professor Michael Twa of the UH College of Optometry and biomedical engineer Salavat Aglyamov from the University of Texas at Austin.
With this grant, they will now begin work on building the prototype. This process could take more than five years to fully test the machine and finalize all the details.
“We are going to investigate if it’s really possible to do it and try to develop a first prototype of an instrument that could be used,” Larin said.
“Right now we’ll try it in animal studies and see if we can propel to clinical studies later on.”
The device will work by administering a localized puff of air to the eye. This puff will then cause mechanical waves to propagate on the surface of the cornea, Larin said.
The waves will then be measured to determine the parameters of the tissue under the cornea.
“If you drop a stone in the water, it will give one type of wave. If you drop a stone in oil, it will be different because it’s a different viscosity and (there are) different mechanics underneath,” Larin said.
“So we propose a similar way to do it for the cornea.”
It will basically produce 3-D maps of mechanical properties of the cornea, allowing surgeons to be better prepared for their procedures, Larin said.
“It greatly improves diagnostics as well as preoperational procedures. The surgeon would know if he has hot spots or if he has to (do an alternative method),” Larin said.
“What (the prototype could) do is provide an early, more accurate diagnostic of different corneal abnormalities, which is not possible right now.”
While this device is primarily being studied for improving eye treatment, Larin believes it could transcend into other areas of the medical field.
“We proposed it for specific problems with the eye, but it could easily be translated to other diseases, such as for cancer,” Larin said.
“We’re working right now on some pilot studies. We’ll try to study tissue cancer and the biomechanics of arteriosclerotic disease.”