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Home Eye Pressure Gauge in the Works

Eye measurements

(Sakuie, Pixabay)

23 Sept. 2020. An easy-to-use device for measuring intraocular pressure responsible for glaucoma is in development by University of Pittsburgh biomedical engineers. The home tonometer, designed to interact with a smartphone app, is funded by a four-year, $1.1 million award from National Science Foundation.

Glaucoma is the name given to a collection of eye conditions resulting in damage to the optic nerve that in advanced stages can lead to vision loss. In most cases of glaucoma, abnormally high intraocular pressure in the eye results in the optic nerve damage. The Glaucoma Research Foundation cites reports from World Health Organization showing glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, affecting more than 60 million people.

The device for measuring intraocular pressure is a tonometer, which in most cases today requires a clinician or trained caregiver to administer. Because of the device’s often complex requirements, intraocular pressure measurements are taken infrequently, providing an incomplete assessment of pressure changes over time, missing spikes or troughs during the day and through sleep-wake cycles.

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh’s engineering school propose an easy-to-use device for individuals to measure their own intraocular pressure during the day and routinely capture the data for their physicians. A team led by civil and environmental engineering professor Piervincenzo Rizzo is applying the physical principle of solitary waves that propagate at a constant velocity, while maintaining their shape, which can apply to acoustic or light waves. The researchers say this is the first time the solitary wave principle is being applied to ophthalmology.

The proposed device is a cylinder placed over the eye. A trigger sends acoustical waves into the eye, with a sensor to capture and measure returning waves indicating intraocular pressure in the eye. “We’re proposing to use a special family of acoustic waves that can interact with the eye, bouncing back like an echo,” says Rizzo in a university statement. It’s like shouting into a small room versus a large one. The properties of the echo depend on the properties of the room.”

The pressure-reading device is expected to be connected by Bluetooth to a smartphone app to track changes in pressure over time. Data from the app are also expected to be transmittable to physicians and for insertion into electronic health records.

Rizzo’s Laboratory for Nondestructive Evaluation and Structural Health Monitoring studies wave propagation, — including  ultrasound, infrared, thermography, and acoustic — in a variety of contexts. The lab’s research covers a highly diverse set of applications, including train rails, bridge stability, gas well pipes, transmission lines, and dental implants.

The Pittsburgh team includes engineering colleagues and associates from the university’s affiliated UPMC medical center. Ian Conner, director of UPMC’s glaucoma service and a participant in the project notes, “This technology really has a lot of potential to enable non-clinicians, and even patients themselves, to reliably assess intraocular pressure, which will allow their doctors to better tailor their treatments.”

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