The study, whose findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports, was carried out by researchers from the Oxford Eye Hospital at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust and the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and was supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).
Many retinal diseases may cause a build-up or reduction of lipofuscin, a pigment in cells supporting the retina. Lipofuscin is normally visualised using its autofluorescent property when illuminated with blue or green light. However, this non-invasive imaging technique, called fundus autofluorescence imaging, has a number of limitations. including significant glare and discomfort for the patient as the image is being acquired, or reduced image quality in patients with cataracts.
The Oxford research team overcame these problems by using red excitation light. The resulting images were high-quality, high-contrast images allowing assessment of retinal diseases, even in patients with cataracts.
Importantly, the imaging procedure was more comfortable for patients when compared to the conventional method and there were no safety concerns. The new imaging method also has the potential to uncover disease features that had previously remained undetected.
The author leading the study, Peter Charbel Issa, said: 'This study provides the first evidence of the clinical usefulness of autofluorescence imaging using red excitation light, which indeed may provide additional information about retinal disease.
'It will be interesting to use this innovative imaging method in research to better understand retinal diseases, but I am also sure that it will be suitable for the routine clinical monitoring of patients with age-related macular degeneration, Stargardt disease or other retinal diseases.'