The Eyes Have It

Summer 2014

Jerry Prince (left) with Peter Calabresi

It turns out the eyes are a window to more than just the soul.

Thanks to software developed by Jerry Prince, the William B. Kouwenhoven Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a simple scan of the eye is allowing doctors to assess and better understand the progression of multiple sclerosis.

“Eye scans are not that expensive, are really safe, and are widely used in ophthalmology, and now that we have evidence of their predictive value in MS, we think they are ready for prime time,” says Peter A. Calabresi, a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and project collaborator.

The eye scan is a noted improvement over traditional procedures (including MRI and spinal taps) to diagnose and chart MS, a potentially debilitating neurodegenerative disease that currently afflicts some 400,000 people in the United States. “It can be hoped that MS patients can be monitored more frequently with this kind of technology,” says Prince.

For the eye scan, an optical coherence tomography laser (OCT) is shone into the eye of a person with MS, and a 3D image of the retina is created. Prince’s software is then able to take that image and label eight layers of different retinal nerve cells and the actual boundaries between those layers in the retina.

While several OCT device manufacturers already offer general software capable of labeling some retinal layers, none is as comprehensive and detailed as the software developed by Prince and his colleagues to study MS patients.

Prince’s research was supported by a two-year, $446,000 grant from the National Eye Institute, and the software will be available this year on an open-source basis.

In Impact