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What I did this summer: Stanford medical student investigates early detection methods for glaucoma

This summer, Stanford medical students contributed to projects in communities around the globe as part of the Medical Scholars Research Program. In this special back-to-school Q&A series, five students share their experiences developing preventive medicine strategies, gaining hands-on clinical experience and conducting field research.

More than 60 million people worldwide suffer from glaucoma, and the prevalence of this group of eye diseases is increasing. Among those affected by the disease is the grandfather of Stanford medical student Rachel Lee. Lee witnessed the frustrating and devastating process of him slowly losing his eyesight and decided she wanted to prevent others from suffering the same fate.

So when Lee was offered the chance to do research in Asia and work on identifying early-detection methods for people at risk for glaucoma, the opportunity resonated with her on a personal level. Lee wound up spending the summer at the Hong Kong University Eye Institute, where she closely examined the corneal biomechanics of patients with normal eyesight, nearsightedness and glaucoma using Oculus' Corvis ST corneal imaging device.

I recently had a chance to talk with Lee about her work there.

What do we know about the corneal biomechanics of people with glaucoma, and how might this be useful for early detection of the disease?

Previous studies have shown that glaucoma patients tend to have thinner corneas than those without the disease. Additionally, corneas that are not as capable of absorbing energy are also associated with increasing glaucomatous vision loss. In theory, we could screen patients to see whether their eyes have these properties. In doing so, we could more closely monitor them for signs of glaucoma and offer treatment as quickly as possible.

What were the results of the study you conducted this summer?

I have yet to finish analyzing the data that I've collected this summer, but I think I've found a few interesting results. The instrument that I worked with over the summer, Oculus' Corvis ST, was recently released and measures parameters that have not been documented before. Based on the results from this instrument, it seems that nearsighted and glaucoma patients have unique biomechanical properties that differentiate them from patients with normal eyesight.

What was your most memorable experience working at the Hong Kong University Eye Institute?

My most memorable experience would have to be my first day in clinic. I remember being taken aback by how incredibly busy and packed the clinic was. The patients would line up to wait their turn to see ophthalmologists in the hallway. Near the entrance of the clinic, there's even a little kiosk where you can pay for your doctor's visit using the same card you use to pay for your bus fare!

Previously: What I did this summer: Stanford medical student works to improve emergency care in Cambodia and What I did this summer: Stanford medical student helps India nonprofit create community-health maps
Photo by Rachel Lee

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