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The test takes about a minute, two minutes, tops.
Perched on a stool, face supported on a chinrest, the patient looks into the optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine. A white cross on a black background is in her field of vision, with red lines that move up and down, back and forth.
Dr. Efrem Mandelcorn, clinician investigator at the Krembil Research Institute and a retinal surgeon at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute's Retina Clinic, directs a laser into the patient's eye. He's using light waves to take cross-sectional pictures of the patient's retina and optic nerve. It's painless, it's simple and it's over very quickly.
OCT has been used in optometrist's and ophthalmologist's offices to diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma for years. But researchers like Dr. Mandelcorn are hoping this simple test could be used someday to help doctors diagnose neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), even before patients show symptoms.
"We have very good technology to look at the eye," explains Dr. Mandelcorn. "You can look at what's called the retinal nerve fibre layer, which goes right to the optic nerve.
"It is a direct connection from the eye to the brain – a window to the brain."
The Krembil Research Institute and the Globe and Mail have teamed up for a special content project designed to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of our scientists and research programs at Krembil. The first of three magazines in this series looked at the brain and spine program and was released in the spring. A second magazine highlighting the vision program is now available online and a the third in the series will explore the arthritis program later this year.