A programmable structured light interferometer has shown remarkable advancements in studying disorders and diseases of the human eye
A collaboration between the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science, and the Center for Eye and Vision Research in Hong Kong is working on a programmable structured light interferometer that can detect debilitating eye diseases and disorders such as macular degeneration before irreversible damage occurs.
Macular degeneration (MD) is the leading global cause of blindness among people over the age of 60 and accounts for 90% of new cases of legal blindness in Canada. Unfortunately, patients often do not seek medical care until vision loss has already occurred. Even after diagnosis via fundus photography or optical coherence tomography (OCT), which requires the subjective evaluation of retinal images by professional ophthalmologists, no treatment exists which can reverse vision loss caused by macular degeneration.
The research team led by Dusan Sarenac and Dmitry Pushin achieved the first integration of the structured light toolbox into vision science and now wants to develop novel diagnostic tests to improve selectivity towards the structure of the macula and enable new methods of diagnosing macular degeneration before vision loss occurs. “Our work aims to improve the diagnostic abilities of optometrists and ophthalmologists by bringing tools developed for quantum information science to vision healthcare for the first time,” says Connor Kapahi, Ph.D. candidate at IQC.
Structured light beams can be engineered to probe specific biological structural organizations, such as the fibers in the human macula. These fibers act as a polarization filter that enable a typical person to perceive linearly polarized light through the entoptic phenomena known as Haidinger’s brushes, bow-tie-shaped shadows that appear in a person’s field of vision. In an initial study, the researchers verified this entoptic phenomenon, showing that humans can perceive and discriminate structured light. The researchers further created different entopic patterns that were easier for people to see, which may allow new methods to measure macular pigment density. This is of interest because a patient with macular degeneration had a decreased ability to perceive these entropic phenomena.
“Beyond the interesting technical and scientific problems that this research presents, this work has the potential to meaningfully impact people afflicted with MD and other retinal disorders in the near term – with a simple screening test, MD can be detected earlier and more reliably than is currently possible. This can significantly improve the healthy life expectancy of millions of people worldwide by diagnosing macular degeneration before irreversible vision loss occurs”, adds Kapahi. The importance of this work is highlighted in its near-term applications – “research in applied quantum technology is often deep-tech, with the potential to revolutionize the world sometime far in the future; however this work, inspired by quantum research, could impact real people in a matter of years, not decades.”
This research was undertaken thanks in part to funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
Poster authors: Connor Kapahi, Andrew Silva, Mukhit Kulmaganbetov, Taranjit Singh, Melanie Mungalsingh, Ivar Taminiau, Ben Thompson, David Cory, Dmitry Pushin, Dusan Sarenac