Jesse Schallek has been awarded the David Mahoney Neuroimaging award from the Dana Foundation

October 12, 2016

Jesse Schallek

Jesse Schallek has been awarded the David Mahoney Neuroimaging award from the Dana Foundation.  Dr. Schallek and his team will use newly developed imaging techniques to identify the earliest stages of vascular changes that can damage the retina and impair vision (retinopathy) in people with diabetes. 

People with diabetes have high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia) because their bodies produce too little insulin or do not use insulin efficiently to metabolize sugar. If inadequately controlled, high blood sugar eventually narrows blood vessels throughout the body, including tiny vessels called capillaries that bring oxygen and remove waste from cells. Capillaries are about 1/10th the size of a human hair. When they narrow in the retina, located at the back of the eye, the flow of red blood cells slows and capillaries can swell and bleed. This situation can produce “diabetic retinopathy,” creating blurred vision and even blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy can best be prevented, or contained, by adequate blood sugar control. In more advanced disease, lasers or surgery can help contain diabetic retinopathy but, even so about 10,000 people a year in this country become blind due to this condition. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential but until recently techniques for visualizing the earliest stages of capillary narrowing and reduced red blood cell flow have been inadequate.  Current imaging techniques do not have enough resolution because the eye’s optics blur the image of capillaries and blood cells within.

To address this problem, Schallek and his team have developed new approaches in high resolution imaging to visualize the smallest capillaries and track single blood cells. This eye camera has resolution approaching that of the best benchtop light microscopes. Additionally, they created a new “contrast” technique to use with AOSLO that enhances the ability to identify red blood cells in retinal capillaries. The investigators hypothesize that this combination will facilitate detection of the earliest signs of capillary dysfunction that can lead to diabetic retinopathy. They first will determine healthy dynamics between capillary size and red blood cell flow in the healthy volunteers. Then they will measure this dynamic over time in people with diabetes. If this technique is found to be reliable and valid, it may also be used in the future to assess experimental therapies designed to treat diabetic retinopathy.