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Diabetic patients monitor their blood glucose throughout the day, watching for peaks and valleys. Just taking a sample once during a visit to the doctor’s office would not give a clear picture of whether the patient’s diabetes is under control. The same is true of glaucoma patients, whose intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure within the eye, is too high.

IOP varies throughout the day, but there isn’t yet an easy way to monitor changes at home that would provide proven, reliable readings, making it difficult for doctors to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

Piervincenzo Rizzo, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is leading a project that will help glaucoma patients monitor their intraocular pressure (IOP) at home, giving them and their doctors a clearer picture of eye health. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members Ian Sigal, PhD, Associate Professor, Director of the Laboratory of Ocular Biomechanics in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Ian Conner, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, are members of the research team.

The project, titled “Managing Glaucoma in the Digital Age: A New Tonometer to Connect Patients to their Caregivers,” recently received $1,099,984 from the National Science Foundation. Work will begin October 1, 2020, and last four years.

“We understand that intraocular pressure can have a pretty wide range throughout the day but have very few ways to assess this critical variable outside of the clinic,” explained Dr. Conner, Director of UPMC’s Glaucoma Service. “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.

The proposed device would use a cylinder containing an array of particles that, when pressed against the closed eyelid, will send an acoustic wave into the eye and wait for it to bounce back. The properties of the returning wave give the device information about the pressure inside the eye.

“We’re proposing to use a special family of acoustic waves that can interact with the eye, bouncing back like an echo,” said Dr. Rizzo. “It’s like shouting into a small room versus a large one. The properties of the echo depend on the properties of the room.”

Dr. Rizzo’s team also includes Sam Dickerson, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School, and Robert Handzel, MD, in Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology.

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University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering News Release