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Looking deep into the human eye, Stanford scientist uncovers secrets of retinal disease

A dead fish and a discussion of the Cold War feature seem unlikely players in a story about new ways to diagnose diseases of the retina. But they aren't even the most interesting part of my latest story for Stanford Medicine magazine. That honor belongs to physicist and ophthalmologist Alfredo Dubra, PhD, who is pioneering technology to look deep inside the human eye with untold precision. Dubra, who was born in Uruguay, was launched into his career by a unique set of circumstances, including a severe case of strabismus, or crossed eyes, when he was an infant.

From my article:

In the years since, Dubra, now an associate professor of ophthalmology at Stanford, has become a leader in the field of adaptive optics — an imaging technique that uses Cold War-driven advances in astronomical telescopes to view a whole new galaxy of cells and anatomical structures in the human eye. Normally these cells, closeted at the back of the eye, are surprisingly hard to see in any fine detail. But adaptive optics transforms blurry, gray images reminiscent of static on a poorly tuned television into a clearly defined landscape in which an individual cell’s structure, location and even functional status can be determined. It’s likely to change lives by permitting researchers and clinicians to diagnose, monitor and treat devastating, degenerative retinal and neuronal diseases earlier and more effectively.

Through it all, Dubra keeps his eyes on the prize: the opportunity to help patients with devastating retinal diseases. As he explains, "All too often patients are just abstract concepts to physicists and engineers like me, and it’s easy to stay immersed in the technology and forget the end goal. That’s why it’s vitally important to have regular contact with people who are visually impaired, and who desperately need help. These people are going blind."

Previously: Retina fixes: Two Stanford scientists are developing devices to restore visionNew retinal implant could restore sight and Stanford Medicine magazine reports on the future of vision
Photo by Brian Smale

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