It sounds pretty annoying, actually. A puff of air focused into a small spot and blown directly into the eyeball. But what’s annoying could drastically improve eye care, and even end up saving the vision of some people.
Kirill Larin, associate professor of biomedical engineering with the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, has won $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a system that will use this puff of air to diagnose various eye diseases. He is collaborating with Michael Twa, assistant professor in the UH College of Optometry and Salavat Aglyamov, a biomedical engineer with The University of Texas at Austin.
It’s established that several eye diseases can change the biomechanical properties of the cornea. Myopia, keratoconus, and glaucoma, for instance, can change the cornea’s shape and stiffness.
Larin intends to measure such changes by observing how the cornea moves after the puff of air. “The air puff will propagate mechanical waves on the cornea. We’ll then measure the speed and attenuation [or weakening] of these waves.”
These measurements will be taken using an optical coherence tomography technique, which utilizes a harmless laser beam to sense movement down to mere billionths of a meter. The data that is collected will then be fed into models developed by the research team. These models, in turn, will determine the biomechanical properties of the cornea, such as its elasticity.
According to Larin, such information should allow for better detection of eye diseases and greater accuracy in the performance of eye surgeries such as Lasik.
Given the benefits this device will offer, then, a puff of air to the eye is an annoyance most people will happily live with.