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Changes and transformations: how technology is changing glaucoma

Technology seems to be transforming our lives everyday – and it’s helping to make leaps and bounds in diagnosing, understanding, and treating glaucoma. Here, Dr Jesse Gale shares his insights into some of the most recent developments in glaucoma research, and how technology will continue to shape the treatment of glaucoma in exciting ways.

 

The ongoing relationship between technology and glaucoma

Over the years, the increased power of technology has allowed eye health professionals to understand and assess the condition of the eye at greater depth. Consider diagnosing glaucoma – 15 years ago, an optical coherence tomography scan (OCT) was very new and low quality. Now, the newest machines allow professionals to do 200,000 scans a second, and achieve resolution almost able to see individual living cells in the eye. Developments in this technology continue at an amazing pace, with angiography, artificial intelligence, tissue labelling, and 3D modelling.

Technology is also allowing for new approaches to medical devices. I’m working with design and engineering students at Victoria University to use open source software and 3D printers so professionals can eventually make their own medical devices. We’ve managed to produce a pupilometer for only $300 using this technology, although it’s still a work in progress. This is a first step in hopefully making eye health equipment more cost effective and opening up services in poorer parts of the world.

 

Speeding up research

Exciting research is happening in New Zealand right now on electrophysiology – the measuring of electrical signals from the surface of the eye. In regards to glaucoma, it can provide an idea of whether the optic nerve is under additional stress. The test is not as clean and tidy as we’d like at the moment, but the area has huge potential. Historic glaucoma trials have often taken 5 to 10 years, but now some pilot studies are emerging where treatment with new drugs can be seen to have an effect on improving electrophysiology stress signals in just a month. This could allow many drugs to be tested more quickly and cheaply, accelerating the development of the most promising treatments.

 

Looking forward to the future

Technology – as well as the researchers and developers harnessing its potential – will continue to not only improve our understanding of glaucoma, but also the ways in which it is treated. A dream project I’m helping to work towards is a networked electronic record that will hopefully create a common record for eye problems across New Zealand. If we were all contributing to the same record from all our hospitals and practices there would be so many potential benefits: improving communication between staff, reducing wasted travel and duplication of tests, amazing research possibilities, opening the door to smarter models of care, and innovations such as reminders for patients about treatment and appointments, or even home monitoring.

Emerging technologies mean exciting times in the world of glaucoma. Clever people from around the world are coming together and creating opportunities to make things better for those with glaucoma – meaning people can expect quicker, easier and better treatment and management in the future.

Dr Jesse Gale is an ophthalmologist based in Wellington. He’s particularly interested in finding new ways to manage glaucoma, and how glaucoma and other optic nerve problems are linked. 


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