MedUni Vienna: Disease risks can be diagnosed earlier with new light technologies

Today, Thursday, saw the opening of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for "Innovative Optical Imaging and its Translation into Medicine" (OPTRAMED) at the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the Medical University of Vienna. The laboratory is funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and Economic Affairs. The aim of this research work is to facilitate the diagnosis of diseases, for example in the retina of the human eye, with the aid of new light technologies and to develop these methods to clinical maturity more quickly than ever before.

"CD laboratories are important in terms of international competition, because they make new knowledge marketable and commercially interesting to businesses. That helps to ensure economic growth and provide jobs in Austria. The collaboration between the Medical University and commercial partners means that the latest scientific findings can be made available to patients within the shortest possible time," says Reinhold Mitterlehner, Minister for Science, Research and Economic Affairs, emphasising the importance of the funding programme.

Improved imaging of vascular structures
The OPTRAMED laboratory is specifically concerned with developing new technologies in the field of optical imaging, for use in modern medicine. "For example, in future it will be possible to map the vascular structure of the human retina non-invasively and hence without unwanted side effects," explains Rainer Leitgeb of the MedUni Vienna Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, who is heading up the new laboratory. "This involves structural diagnostic methods and also the display of functional parameters." This means that, in future, we will be able to achieve much better resolution of cellular images and improved diagnosis – for example of retinal disorders associated with diabetes and also with high blood pressure – and provide preventive treatment at an early stage.

The new technologies include the already known method of OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) developed at MedUni Vienna but now extended to include elements of holography, which uses the wave character of light. "Previously we just scanned a specific point," explains Leitgeb, "but now we can take a high resolution image of the whole area at the same time, which gives us greater diagnostic certainty." This means that the new light technologies can also be used in endoscopy for the detailed examination of internal organs and also in surgical microscopy. "Together with Carl Zeiss, we are developing an operating microscope that displays 3-D images of organs online during the surgical procedure. This provides the surgeon with exact information as to how far he can cut." Another section of the new laboratory involves a collaboration with Exalos AG, a manufacturer of light sources with which optimal coherence can be achieved in different wavelength ranges. Leitgeb: "For example, light in the near infrared range can be used to show up so-called plaque deposits in blood vessels, so that it is possible to analyse potential stroke or heart attack risks."
All the potential applications benefit from close and cross-disciplinary collaboration with many other MedUni Vienna departments, for example the University Hospital of Ophthalmology under the direction of Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, stresses Leitgeb.

According to the MedUni Vienna researcher, although still just a vision today, it is conceivable that in future the new light technologies can also be used for diagnosing neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's.

Improved diagnostic practice sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Research and Economic Affairs
"The aim of our CD Laboratory is to develop existing technological possibilities so that they can be used in routine everyday clinical practice," says the director of the new laboratory, which is funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and Economic Affairs.

About Christian Doppler Laboratories
CD Laboratory conduct high-level, application-oriented basic research, whereby outstanding scientists collaborate with innovative companies. The CD Research Association is a global model of Best Practice in promoting this type of collaborative initiative. Christian Doppler Laboratories are jointly financed by the government and the private companies involved. Most of the public funding comes from the Federal Ministry for Science, Research and Economic Affairs (BMWFW).

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