MedUni Vienna: Eye scanner targets neurodegenerative diseases

EU MOON project combines the capability of optical coherence tomography with that of Raman spectroscopy

In a large-scale EU project, in which MedUni Vienna is working alongside international partners, the capabilities of optical coherence tomography (OCT) and Raman spectroscopy have been combined in a novel eye scanner. Using this new technology, it is now possible to add molecular information to the visualization of the internal structure of the eye . It is hoped that this will enable neurodegenerative diseases to be detected at an early stage, as well as eye diseases and diabetes.

A multimodal eye scanner was developed as part of the MOON project. This scanner not only provides a high-resolution image of the structure using OCT but also sensitive molecular characterization of the tissue. To achieve this, the capabilities of OCT have been combined with those of Raman spectroscopy. The latter technology uses light to detect the finest molecular vibrations, so that the chorus of molecules in the tissue generates a characteristic spectrum, from which it is possible to determine the composition of the tissue. By combining the expertise of the MOON project partners, it was possible to develop the first multimodal device that provides both OCT and Raman spectroscopic data from the living human eye.

Early detection of disease means a better chance of preventing progression

Biochemical changes due to disease-related processes set in long before there is actual tissue damage, which can lead to irreversible loss of vision, especially in the retina. The earlier such changes are detected, the better for the patient, as most treatments cannot reverse an existing damage but rather aim to stop progression. Early diagnosis of disease therefore ideally encompasses spectroscopic and functional identification of tissue status, in addition to structural imaging. The image quality and image size of functional and structural information achieved with the eye scanners developed in the project are unrivalled anywhere in the world. The use of artificial intelligence allows additional contrast enhancement of OCT angiographs for functional imaging.  

Early detection not only of eye diseases but also neurodegenerative diseases of the brain

A study currently being conducted at the Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry of the Medical University of Vienna shows the relevance of advanced OCT technology for improved ocular diagnostics and treatment planning in diabetic patients, as well as for other diseases of the ocular fundus. With these results, the Medical University of Vienna is leading the world in establishing new standards in retinal diagnostics based on OCT alone.

Ongoing clinical trials with partners from ophthalmology, neurology, psychiatry, nuclear medicine and clinical pharmacology at the Medical University of Vienna are not only investigating eye diseases but also neurodegenerative diseases. Based on the hypothesis, confirmed by numerous studies, that neurodegenerative diseases of the brain also lead to changes in the sensitive retinal nerve tissue, the eye can serve as a window to the brain. Alzheimer's disease is being studied as an important example of this type of neural disease. In the ongoing clinical investigations, the very first relevant Raman spectra from the human eye have now been recorded, with initial indications of diagnostic potential.

Further studies are already planned with clinical partners from ophthalmology and clinical pharmacology at the Medical University of Vienna. These will explore the validity of Raman spectroscopy in the diagnosis of diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases other than Alzheimer’s disease such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.

International project within the EU framework programme H2020

In the project "MOON" (multimodal optical diagnostics for age-related diseases of the eye and the central nervous system), funded by the EU framework programme H2020, partners from Austria - represented by experts at the Center for Medical Physics of the Medical University of Vienna - Germany, France and the Netherlands are working on the development of new technologies for the early diagnosis of these diseases and their successful application in treatment and diagnostics.

The MOON joint project was funded by the European Union as part of its Horizon2020 programme (project number 732969). The project partners are the Medical University of Vienna, the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies Jena (Leibniz-IPHT), TNO Optics Expertise Group Delft; Carl Zeiss AG, HORIBA S.A.S., and INNOLUME GmbH.


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