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Bioengineering and ophthalmology professors receive million-dollar grant to help improve eye disease detection

Yao lab eye imaging

Richard and Loan Hill Professor of Bioengineering Xincheng Yao and Marion H. Schenk, Esq. Chair and Professor of Ophthamology Jennifer I. Lim received a four-year grant worth $1.45 million from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health to establish differential artery-vein analysis in optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) imaging results.

This work is crucial, according to Yao, because the blood system in the eye includes both arteries and veins. He explained that researchers know different diseases impact these two systems differently, but the current imaging technology cannot differentiate between the two systems in the eye. This work will help facilitate a directed retinal vasculature analysis of the impact of diseases such as diabetes of these blood vessels, according to Lim.

The research team will use quantitative feature analysis of optical coherence tomography, which is captured at the same time as OCTA, to guide artery-vein differentiation in OCTA imaging in diabetic retinopathy (DR) patients. Due to the high prevalence of diabetes, Yao noted that DR is still a leading cause of blindness in people of working age.

The team, including members of Yao’s Biomedical Optics and Functional Imaging Laboratory, will also attempt to validate automated OCTA classification of DR by using machine learning to integrate multiple classifiers to identify DR. This will allow clinicians in the field to detect the disease earlier, which in turn will lead to earlier interventions and improved outcomes.

“By the end of the four-year grant, I think we can establish the technical principle on how to do the differential artery-vein analysis in OCTA,” Yao said. He added this principle could then be shared with researchers and eye doctors across the world.

In addition to detecting and helping guide treatment for DR, Yao said these techniques could also be applied to other eye diseases as well.

This is the third new grant from the National Eye Institute Yao has received within the past 12 months. In total, the three grants brought in more than $4 million to help his lab continue its ground-breaking research into eye imaging.

“I am proud of our lab members, this couldn’t happen without their hard work, and the clinical support from our collaborators,” Yao said. “I could not be successful if it was just myself. The recent support has been great and shows people know our work and they know we are trying to push for improved optical instruments for better eye disease detection.”

The grant, which starts on Feb. 1, will run for four years. Lim is the clinical PI of the project, and Devrim Toslak, a Visiting Scholar of Bioengineering, is another key investigator on the project.