28.12.2023

“Inventing a technology is one thing but putting it into practice is quite another. ICTER allows both worlds to meet,” an interview with Dr. Bartosz Sikorski, an ophthalmologist and long-time ICTER collaborator

Dr. Bartosz Sikorski’s 20-year friendship with Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski resulted in several joint projects and patents that today facilitate the diagnosis of eye diseases worldwide. Without them, there would be no spectral OCT or OCT angiography, among others, which have changed the face of ophthalmology. But the exciting adventure continues! They are currently working together on two-photon vision, optoretinography (functional examination of the retina), and STOC (Spatio-Temporal OCT), which open up entirely new horizons.

How can modern ophthalmology be improved with new diagnostic methods? What does this mean for patients and, more broadly, for the whole of the society? You will learn about this from our interview with Dr. Bartosz Sikorski, an ophthalmologist, vitreoretinal surgeon and long-standing ICTER collaborator, a clinical expert in the field of eye imaging.

Interview with Dr. Bartosz Sikorski, an ophthalmologist and long-time ICTER collaborator


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Bartosz L. Sikorski, MD, PhD graduated in medicine from NCU. He also studied at ICL, University of Oxford, and Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the European Board of Ophthalmology (Paris) and a Member of the Optical Biomedical Imaging Team at the Institute of Physics, NCU, which developed and commercialized Spectral-Domain OCT technology. Dr. Sikorski is the Medical Director of the AI detection project for retinal diseases.

Maciej Wojtkowski, PhD graduated in physics at NCU, where he then headed the Optical Biomedical Imaging Team. Professor Wojtkowski also worked at the University of Vienna and MIT. He and his co-workers developed the first Spectral-Domain OCT laboratory set-ups and clinical prototypes, and co-commercialized the technology. He is currently Chair of ICTER and the Physical Optics and Biophotonics Group at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz, PhD is responsible for fine-tuning and implementing the internal and external communication strategy for ICTER. She has 18 years of experience in the public and private sector, where she developed as a diplomat, manager, consultant, translator, writer, and university lecturer. She interviewed Dr. Bartosz Sikorski.

Karol Karnowski, PhD graduated in physics (MSc) and biophysics (PhD) at NCUr. From 2015 to 2018, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Western Australia, where he still holds the honorary position of Adjunct Senior Lecturer. Since 2018, he has led a project group working on the use of polarization contrast and miniature imaging probes. In addition, he led the group responsible for the design of a clinical prototype for multi-spot assessment of corneal biomechanics. At ICTER he is a senior researcher actively involved in research activities of IDoc and POB groups and supports the centre as PR photographer. He recorded and edited the video.

Marcin Powęska, MSc is a biologist, popular science journalist, author of numerous medical publications, and ICTER’s research editor. He crafted the title and social media material for this interview.

The International Centre for Translational Eye Research (www.icter.pl) is a centre of excellence hosted by the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences (https://ichf.edu.pl/) and carried out within the International Research Agendas programme of the Foundation for Polish Science co-financed by the European Union under the European Regional Development Fund.

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13.12.2023

“Optoretinography is the future of ophthalmology, and the knowledge from ICTER is utilized by top specialists” – interview with Prof. Robert Zawadzki from UC Davis

Thanks to medical progress, we can cure more and more vision-related diseases and the bottleneck of successful ophthalmological interventions is diagnostics. The stage at which changes in the retina are detected directly translates into the patient’s chances of recovery. One of the most innovative and fastest-growing ophthalmological techniques is optoretinography (ORG), the leader of which in Poland is Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski from ICTER. Many centers around the world research ORG, and many use the treasure trove of knowledge of ICTER scientists.

One of the most important research centers specializing in ORG in the United States is the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), where Prof. Robert Zawadzki – a graduate of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and a long-time collaborator of ICTER – has worked for about 20 years. We asked him what he does at UC Davis; how his research can translate into patients’ health; what are his feelings after visiting ICTER and why cooperation between centers from all over the world is crucial for the future of ophthalmology.

Please tell us what project you are working on and with whom during your current visit to ICTER.

Yes, this is my follow-up visit to ICTER at the invitation of Prof. M. Wojtkowski. Our plan during my previous visit was to assist in two research projects. One involved setting up and testing a fundus camera, which was designed for the STOC-T system and is now used for functional eye imaging. This research was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Andrea Curatolo’s team, with Wiktor Kulesza and Piotr Węgrzyn. During that stay, we managed to obtain an image of the mouse eye fundus using the camera, which could be used to determine the precise location of the retina for subsequent functional measurements using STOC-T. The second project involved cooperation with Dr. Michał Dąbrowski, that focused on assisting in the two-photon fluorescence imaging of the retina. Here, I also helped Mr. Michał correct the image from the auxiliary single-photon scanning light ophthalmoscope system, for two-photon measurements. In both the STOC-T and two-photon projects, the primary scientific instruments did not have real-time high-quality images, and this is where assistance was needed to build systems that would help align the eyes during the examination. During my current stay, I also participated in the CRATER conference and then focused mainly on working with Dr. Andrea Curatolo’s team. We collaborated on a manuscript describing the STOC-T measurement system for mouse imaging and its applications. Additionally, we discussed issues related to finding permissible light exposure limits for STOC-T measurements on experimental animals, as well as the details of the STOC-T optical system and the potential impact of various components on the measurement system’s resolution.

This is not the first time you have come to our centre. Please tell us briefly about what has been achieved during your previous visits and in what direction further cooperation with ICTER researchers is going.

Indeed, these visits are a continuation of my previous ones. I have previously collaborated with the same teams. During one of my first visits, taking place over two years ago, Dr. Michał Dąbrowski was still building his system, so our collaboration was limited to assisting in selecting certain optical components, which were needed for the experiments we conducted in 2022. In the case of Dr. Andrea Curatolo, during my first visits, we collaborated on the design, construction, and initial setup of the system. I hope that both projects will continue to develop and, in the case of Dr. Curatolo, allow for functional measurements at the retina in laboratory animals using STOC-T, and in the case of Dr. Dąbrowski, be useful for two-photon fluorescence measurements that may provide us with more information about diseases of photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium, cells containing majority of fluorescent molecules in the eye.

From the left: Piotr Węgrzyn, Prof. Robert Zawadzki, Wiktor Kulesza and Dr. Andrea Curatolo at ICTER’s lab.

What areas do you specialize in and what are the unique effects of this non-obvious combination in practice?

I specialize in the field of biomedical engineering or bio-photonics, specifically focusing on building and utilizing systems for functional measurements in the eye, particularly on the retina, in both humans and experimental animals. The outcomes of my work involve the development of new devices that enable the measurement of functional changes at the cellular level resulting from disease-related changes or age-related alterations. In the future, these methods may contribute to better diagnostics and the assessment of the effectiveness of gene or stem cell therapies in such cases.

Please tell us about your research and work at UC Davis.

I have been at UC Davis for about 20 years now, and currently, I’m a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science. I’m a member of two research groups there. One group is focused on testing and building clinical research devices; it’s called CHOIR, which stands for the Centre for Human Ophthalmic Imaging Research. The other research group I’m part of, EyePod Small Animal Ocular Imaging Laboratory, is involved in small animal ocular imaging. We design and create new devices for structural and functional eye measurements, mainly in mice and small experimental animals. The research we conduct aims to develop new methods that can be useful for both clinical doctors and scientists working on fundamental medical research, where new methods such as gene and stem cell therapy are being developed. We are one of the groups that helps other research teams test their innovations more effectively and identify potential issues faster while also aiding them in discovering new directions for the development of these various therapies.

How can you translate your research results into measurable and useful applications for patients?

Our research has the potential to be useful for patients in the following two scenarios. The first is the development of devices to enhance the diagnosis of eye diseases, improving these methods to the extent that even for individuals who do not yet exhibit any objective changes in their vision, it will be possible to determine whether there are any underlying changes. This is particularly crucial among individuals with genetic predispositions that put them at an increased risk. Knowing a person’s specific genetic defect can help tailor diagnostic methods to identify functional changes in certain cells, potentially allowing for prevention or at least a delay in the progression of the disease, given the current state of the medicine. In cases where these therapies are expensive, this is indeed a significant aspect. The second direction of our research is to confirm whether the methods used to treat patients are effective. In this scenario, if we find no changes, the doctor may choose another method that produces better results. This aspect is perhaps more tangible for patients. Of course, our research is also crucial in the implementation of new therapeutic methods as it accelerates the development of these therapies.

Please tell us how the optoretinography technology developed with ICTER is state-of-the-art, where in the world is it currently being developed, and what is your unique contribution to its development?

The technology of optoretinography, referred to as the method of measuring the functional response of the retina to light stimulation, has unique diagnostic potential and is, therefore one of a kind, it is currently being researched in various laboratories to understand how the signals measured using ORG can be linked to known physiological functions of individual retinal neurons. In Europe is primarily being developed by groups like ICTER led by Maciej Wojtkowski, a strong group in Germany under Geron Huettmann, and another group in Paris, lead by Kate Grieve. In United States, we have groups at UC Davis, University of Washington led by Ramkumar Sabesan, Indiana University led by Don Miller. There are also groups at the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pennsylvania and at Stanford University, just to name a few. All these groups focus on various aspects of ORG. My contribution to the development of this method involves e elucidating the physiological factors related to these signals. We have been able to confirm that changes in retinal water content are responsible for a portion of the signals we measure. This is a secondary effect following photoreceptor light activation but is related to water. Additionally, in our group, which develops devices for clinical research, we aim to create models that would enable us to validate our results, making it easier to determine the main characteristics of the optoretinography signal. Our research is directed towards finding better methods for optoretinographic measurements, discovering what truly influences the signal we measure. Note that we mainly measure changes in the thickness of certain retinal layers and alterations in light scattering. We are also developing methods to model these signals and more easily find correlations between the parameters of these curves and various eye diseases.

From the left: Dr. Michał Dąbrowski, Prof. Robert Zawadzki, and Bartłomiej Bałamut at ICTER’s lab.

Please specify how your career and approach to science have been influenced by the different locations and units where you have worked so far: undergraduate and graduate studies at UMK in Toruń, PhD in Vienna, and work at UC Davis.

My undergrad studies at Nicholaus Copernicus University (UMK) in Toruń were indeed essential for me to find myself where I am now, but, as in most cases, one’s career path and life journey are highly individual and challenging to replicate for others. They are often the result of certain coincidences and opportunities that have appeared on my path, some of which I was able to seize while others eluded me. However, my undergraduate studies at UMK were crucial in gaining fundamental knowledge in experimental physics and the use of computers in physics. They laid the foundation for my understanding of the scientific alphabet, so to speak. Then, during my master’s studies, I had the incredible fortune to start collaborating with Prof. Andrzej Kowalczyk, who, in the late 1990s, had a European Tempus grant for sending young students on various internships. In my case, I had the opportunity to intern at a university in Vienna, where I first encountered the method, I currently work on, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), and I also met one of its inventors, Prof. Adolf Fercher. After completing my master’s degree, I received an offer to pursue a Ph.D. in Vienna under Prof. Fercher, which is when I embarked on my doctoral studies. This experience allowed me to become proficient in both the OCT method and the field of biophotonics, as well as understand how to design devices for studying the eyes and other organs and how to apply data analysis methods. Therefore, my doctoral work was instrumental in building the knowledge needed for what I do now. After completing my Ph.D. in Vienna, I worked briefly as an assistant at UMK, and then, after about six months, I received a job offer at UC Davis as a Postdoc in John Werner Laboratory. It was there that I engaged in a significant project funded by the National Eye Institute, which involved building the world’s first system that combined adaptive optics with OCT. The knowledge I had gained during my doctoral studies, particularly in using OCT to study corneal shape and detect eye aberrations, proved to be ideal for this project, as I already had a foundation in ocular aberrations and understanding the function of the eye as an imaging element, as well as the basics of OCT. This experience in Vienna had also allowed me to become familiar with then up-and-coming detection technique known as Fourier Domain OCT. So, when I went to UC Davis, I had all the knowledge necessary to complete this project, which involved creating the first working adaptive optics OCT (AO-OCT) system, and we demonstrated the first images with cellular resolution on the retina. Throughout the years working at UC Davis, I maintained collaborations with groups in Toruń, led by Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski, and in Vienna. As these eye imaging methods evolved, we contributed to their development, primarily focusing on optical coherence tomography angiography, a method for non-invasively measuring blood flow in the eye. We also worked on methods that combined several different imaging techniques such as OCT with SLO, which are utilized by many modern systems for retinal eye imaging. About 12 years ago I began using these systems for measurements in experimental animals. This was made possible through collaboration between UC Davis Department of Ophthalmology (Prof. John Werner’s group) and the Department of Physiology, where Prof. Edward Pugh was involved. Through our collaboration with Ed Pugh, we created the EyePod team, which focused on studying the retina in experimental animals. It was around 2015 when we began working on ORG, or optoretinography. Thus, I continue to work in the same field, which I have been engaged in since my master’s studies, namely development and application of OCT in Medicine. I was able to do it by constantly applying the latest research method and technology. I have also been able to continuously expand my knowledge to keep my work as interesting and attractive as possible for these new emerging application fields.

What would you like to pass on to fellow scientists involved in eye research and the development of new ophthalmic therapies?

I would like to say that despite the fact that our new research methods and therapies seem very advanced, there are still many things we don’t know and cannot measure yet. I suspect that there is still a lot of work ahead of us to make these methods we are working on clinically available. Just as all these fields are still evolving, I would recommend young scientists to look at the current issues related to eye research. Perhaps even their individual experiences can be crucial in finding further solutions. So, the development of novel structural and functional assessment of the eye is something worth continuously engaging with.

Thank you very much for this interview, Prof. Robert Zawadzki. We eagerly anticipate further fruitful collaboration in the future.


Special thanks to all the ICTER scientists who participated in the photo session at our laboratories.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz (September 2023)

Title, introduction, and social media material: Journalist Marcin Powęska

Pictures: Dr. Karol Karnowski

05.12.2023

Exploring new horizons in eye research: CRATER 2023 Conference summary

CRATER 2023 is a unique event prepared by ICTER as a place to exchange ideas, disseminate research results, and explore the latest achievements related to the most important of our senses: vision.

Since 2019, scientists at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) have been working on breakthrough technologies for imaging and diagnosing eye diseases, facilitating procedures to save or restore vision. The research is interdisciplinary and covers biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science. A summary of the first period of ICTER’s activity was CRATER – Conference on Recent Advances in Translational Eye Research 2023 – which took place in the heart of Warsaw, at the Copernicus Science Center, on September 7-8, 2023. For the implementation of the event, a grant of PLN 320,000 was obtained under the “Excellent Science – Support for Scientific Conferences” program, financed by the Ministry of Education and Science. The event was co-organized by the Candela Foundation, whose statutory activity focuses on supporting the development of optics and photonics in Poland.

The conference aimed to bring together experts from various fields dealing with the process of vision in one place and enable them to exchange scientific ideas, as well as to create a bridge between the scientific world and industry. The conference focused on the latest achievements in the field of vision research, as well as new technologies and diagnostic tools, as well as methods of treating eye diseases. The range of topics covered was wide and included, among others: optogenetics, OCT optical tomography, two-photon imaging, structural biology, bioinformatics, electrophysiology, and the medical use of artificial intelligence (machine learning and deep learning).

Extraordinary guests and extraordinary conversations at CRATER 2023

Anna Clunes, British Ambassador to Poland, inaugurated the conference. During CRATER 2023, there were many interesting presentations in which experts from various specializations shared their knowledge. The conference was graced by the presence of such names as Pablo Artal, Chris Dainty, Francesca Fanelli, Arie Gruzman, Alison Hardcastle, Karl-Wilhelm Koch, Serge Picaud, and Olaf Strauss. Topics covered include the function of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the possibility of restoring vision, the aging process of cells in the retinal vessels or the mechanisms of geographic atrophy (GA), the advanced stage of the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Parallel sessions covered, among others: the modeling of hereditary retinal diseases, processing of visual information, protection of light-sensitive cells (cones and rods), and the potential use of rhodopsin conformational modulators. All of these presentations offered a comprehensive overview of the latest developments in the field of vision research.

During CRATER 2023, prizes were awarded for the best-presented posters containing descriptions of scientific research. Lynn Kandakji, representing the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, was honored for her poster titled “Subclinical Keratoconus Detection Using Deep Learning on Raw Anterior-Segment Optical Coherence Tomography Imaging.” Wiktor Kulesza from ICTER also received a distinction for his poster titled “Hemodynamics Monitoring in Mouse Retinal Vessels via Ultrafast Volumetric Spatio-Temporal Optical Coherence Tomography (STOC-T) Imaging”.

Success has many names

The conference provided a unique opportunity for those outside the eye research community to gain a concise and understandable overview of ICTER’s scientific achievements. Łukasz Kornaszewski, Deputy Director for Intellectual Property at ICTER, said:

Our industrial partners had the opportunity to see us in a natural environment. This event was an unusual and very effective way for non-specialists to understand the depth of our scientific achievements. We prepared informative and concise content, which made it accessible to a wider audience.

Looking at this event from yet another perspective and analyzing the impact of the CRATER conference through the lens of medicine, Piotr Chaniecki, Advisor to the ICTER Management Board for Ophthalmology, shared his observations:

This year’s CRATER conference was like a compass that showed the direction of development in global ophthalmology. Fascinating lectures and poster sessions showed how new technologies will help patients keep their eyes healthy. Soon, ophthalmologists will likely have powerful diagnostic and therapeutic tools at their disposal. For me, the great value lies in learning about technologies that will speed up the diagnosis of certain diseases, giving patients a chance to recover.

Maciej Wojtkowski, director of ICTER, emphasized the importance of the conference:

CRATER provided an important opportunity for ICTER to engage with the global eye research knowledge community. Thanks to the conference, we know where we are and where we are going. This exchange of knowledge allowed us to gain valuable experience and contacts that will bear fruit in the future.

Something more than an ordinary conference

The success of CRATER 2023 can also be measured in numbers. The event was attended by 168 people who represented a variety of environments and organizations. A survey conducted after the conference showed that participants were very satisfied with CRATER 2023. When asked to rate the conference, over 60% of respondents rated it a full 10 points out of 10.

CRATER 2023 was more than just an ordinary conference; was a celebration of the relentless pursuit of scientific and technological advancements in the field of vision research.

During the conference, two videos were recorded containing participants’ statements about the future of research and the event itself. These films undoubtedly reflect the atmosphere of the event. Links to videos below:

Summary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o2ekqTSF1U&ab_channel=IChFPAN.

Interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BvXBZTGrsY&ab_channel=IChFPAN.

Detailed information about CRATER can be found at: https://crater.icter.pl/.

Text: Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz and Marcin Powęska.

Content review: CRATER Organizing Comittee.

31.10.2023

IDoc Group achievements in 3 years perspective

One of the primary initiatives within the IDoc Group focuses on the development of safer and more effective tools for eye surgery. This endeavor posed a distinct challenge for us, as it fell outside our traditional areas of expertise. Nevertheless, it is indeed a remarkable achievement that we have managed to assemble a team that, in under three years, has successfully amalgamated diverse expertise and advanced the project to its current stage. Our journey was marked by a gradual accumulation of knowledge and experience, ultimately culminating in the integration of all the components.

We are now pleased to inform you of the initial experiments where a robotic manipulator has been deployed to enhance manual ophthalmic surgical procedures. These innovations are complemented by the integration of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) images, meticulously aligned with the surgical tools’ tip precise position.

Another project the IDoc laboratory has been involved in goes to the very core of what the ICTER research centre aims to develop, that is methods and instrumentation to detect proper eye structure and function and their alteration in case of disease in an objective way. We did so in collaboration with the POB lab, by pioneering a technique called optoretinography. We are combining this with structural biology tools from the ISB lab for analysing the cellular machinery and its complex changes during the visual cycle in order to validate our hypotheses about what process the functional signal we measure originates from. To do so we are validating our functional imaging results with electrophysiology methods together with OBi laboratory. 

It has been a challenging and ambitious project so far, but its collaborative nature made it all the more rewarding when not long ago we observed, in a repeatable way and for the first time, reduced functional responses from mice subject to temporal inhibition of vision, compared to their response only a couple of hours before the pharmacological treatment. We were able to objectively show with optoretinography that when a central protein (from the PDE family) involved in the phototransduction is inhibited, the mouse retinal photoreceptors, when exposed to a short flash of light, do not elongate nearly as much as they do when the mouse eye is fully functional. Measuring such a small physical change on photoreceptor length in vivo, as we are talking of only few tens of nanometers, can have a huge impact on vision science and ophthalmology by providing an objective functional test of visual ability and photoreceptor health. This in turns can speed up therapy selection and efficacy studies.

We look forward to upcoming results in this field.

Authors:

Dr. Karol Karnowski & Dr. Andrea Curatolo

12.10.2023

Celebrating World Sight Day 2023 with the Foundation for Polish Science

What better way to mark World Sight Day than to shine a light on the achievements of our dedicated team of researchers in advancing ophthalmic therapies? We can’t think of a more fitting occasion. On October 12, 2023, a strong delegation of our management and scientists embarked on a journey to represent ICTER at the “IRAP – Fostering Excellence and Innovation Conference” organized by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP), the institution that played a pivotal role in establishing our centre. There, we presented our pioneering high-tech eye imaging methods, innovative biomedical solutions, and cutting-edge genetic therapies that have been instrumental in the realm of vision care and restoration.

Through an invited talk, Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski, who serves as ICTER’s Chair, summarized our International Research Agenda (IRAP) programme, highlighting our institution’s role in supporting new therapies in ophthalmology and promoting its achievements “as an example of excellence and innovation” (source: FNP). Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski is the IRAP laureate for the creation of ICTER (International Centre for Translational Eye Research), a centre that has received funding from the FNP under the Smart Growth Operational Programme.

Our Principal Investigators were actively engaged at the conference, passionately showcasing the groundbreaking work undertaken in our labs through an array of informative posters and engaging direct discussions with other IRAP laureates, including directors, leaders, and research group members, who have received funding from the Foundation under the Smart Growth Operational Programme. They also interacted with the broader IRAP environment, including the IRAP Council, International Research Committee, and representatives from our business partners. Throughout the conference, we proudly presented cutting-edge research across a wide spectrum of fields, including Medical Physics, Biochemistry, Instrumentation Engineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, and Ophthalmic Biology. Our expertise was exemplified through a series of scientific posters that showcased our strengths in Optical Instrumentation, Electrophysiological Data Analyses, Structural Biology, Bioinformatics, and the Design of Imaging Devices. These innovative areas represent our commitment to advancing eye care and revolutionizing the field of ophthalmology.

The ICTER Board was strongly represented by Anna Pawlus, our Managing Director, and the Deputy Director for Intellectual Property, Dr. Łukasz Kornaszewski. Our scientific community was also out in full force. Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski, was at the forefront, accompanied by Dr. Marta Mikuła-Zdańkowska and PhD student Piotr Wegrzyn, all from the Physical Optics and Biophotonics group. Dr. Marcin Tabaka, who leads the Computational Genomics group, was there with his team members Dr. Stefania Robakiewicz, and PhD student Piotr Rutkowski. Dr. Andrzej Foik, the leader of the Ophthalmic Biology group, was joined by his team members, including Dr. Anna Posłuszny, Dr. Katarzyna Kordecka, and Dr. Jagoda Płaczkiewicz. Dr. Humberto Fernandes, who leads the Integrated Structural Biology group, was accompanied by Luca Gesa, Nelam Kumar, Dr. Sathi Goswami, and Łukasz Olejnik. Furthermore, senior researcher Dr. Karol Karnowski, representing the Image-guided Devices for Ophthalmic Care group, was also part of our delegation.

Throughout the conference, we proudly presented cutting-edge research across a wide spectrum of fields, including Medical Physics, Biochemistry, Instrumentation Engineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ophthalmology, Biomedical Engineering, and Ophthalmic Biology. Our expertise was exemplified through a series of scientific posters that showcased our strengths in Optical Instrumentation, Electrophysiological Data Analyses, Structural Biology, Bioinformatics, and the Design of Imaging Devices. These innovative areas represent our commitment to advancing eye care and revolutionizing the field of ophthalmology.

The full “IRAP – Fostering Excellence and Innovation Conference” transmission is available here.

Website of the event: IRAP – Fostering Excellence and Innovation Scientific conference – 12-13th October 2023 (irapconference.pl).

Photos: Dr. Karol Karnowski

Text: Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz

06.10.2023

As dusk falls, ICTER carries the light. Breakthrough in the diagnosis of eye diseases

We have a pair of eyes, with up to 6 million cones and 120 million rods, gifts from nature for our entire lives. It often happens that one of these elements starts to malfunction – the earlier we detect this, the better the chances of a cure. Diagnostic tools in ophthalmology are well-developed, but they can be improved and scientists at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) are contributing to this.

The eye is nature’s unique “window” that opens in two different ways, leading to entirely different realms. On the one hand, it allows us to observe the external world, and on the other, it enables us to peer inside – into the depths of our bodies, spotting the signs of developing diseases. Unfortunately, more than 280 million people worldwide suffer from malfunctioning eyes. Aging, air pollution, poor hygiene, injuries, and genetic predispositions gradually close our window to the world.

“The human eye is an extraordinary organ, which by its complexity is unmatched by anything on Earth and probably in the Universe. However, it is such a sensitive organ that sooner or later, each of us will experience some problems with it,” says Prof. Dr. hab. Maciej Wojtkowski, Chair of the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER).

Medical progress has allowed us to manage vision disorders like cataracts or glaucoma quite effectively, but in the case of many vascular diseases, we are still vulnerable. Conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, or retinal vascular obstruction still mean a verdict for patients. There is a glimmer of hope carried by scientists from ICTER.

Precision tool for ophthalmologists

One of the most fundamental and accurate tests used in eye disease diagnostics is optical coherence tomography (OCT). It allows the individual eye structures to be viewed in detail, but when used for early detection of subtle pathological changes, it becomes much more challenging.

The team of scientists at ICTER decided to change that by introducing a new imaging method derived from OCT. This led to the creation of even more advanced spatio-temporal optical coherence tomography (STOC-T), which suppresses noise and enables the acquisition of precise images, thereby facilitating the diagnosis of early-stage disease changes. One of the applications of the STOC-T technology is Optoretinography (ORG).

The solution developed by ICTER is fundamental for advancing our understanding of ocular disease diagnostics. Instead of scanning the eye with coherent light (as in traditional OCT), STOC-T uses several hundred different laser patterns to illuminate the retina within nanoseconds, capturing the reactions to this light with a superfast camera. This process is explained in detail in the video “ICTER: Brightening Up Life”: https://youtu.be/Z5VoDjg-JB4.

Through the computational analysis of gigantic datasets, doctors receive more precise and sophisticated information about the eye’s condition. This method significantly improves the visualization of retina and choroid images, which until now was not possible.

“I’m conducting research aimed at finding methods for treating blindness. Eye function is more critical than structure because often in the course of a disease, we first observe changes in function preceding changes in structure. Therefore, highly sensitive measurements of eye function are crucial for monitoring and detecting pathological changes in tissue,” says Professor Olaf Strauss, an experimental biologist at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

A Breakthrough in Eye Diseases Diagnosis

This technology will allow ophthalmologists to diagnose eye diseases much faster and efficiently than today. Most importantly, the patient examination itself will take only one-hundredth of a second (compared to several minutes for current OCT examinations). An ultra-fast camera, capturing 100,000 frames per second, sends gigantic data sets to a computer and allows the receptors’ response to light to be observed.

ICTER’s software processes this data and creates an image that can be compared to what a microscope provides. Currently, ICTER is studying the specific receptor movements associated with certain diseases. This will enable rapid and more precise diagnoses of many eye diseases, as well as post-therapy monitoring.

“Early diagnosis of these conditions would potentially limit their negative effects in about 90% of cases. By employing the STOC-T research method, we provide the opportunity for in-vivo studies of pharmacological therapies, supplying essential information about the quality and efficacy of proposed eye disease treatments,” explains Professor Maciej Wojtkowski, Chair of ICTER.

With STOC-T technology, a clinical research market for cutting-edge eye therapies, including gene therapies, could emerge. Furthermore, the STOC-T diagnostic equipment is compact and portable, making it suitable for any ophthalmology clinic once commercialized.

What the ICTER is?

The International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) is a research and development centre created to develop state-of-the-art technologies to support the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, facilitating the rapid implementation of new therapies. It is a subunit of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, where five research groups work on the same topic from various perspectives, continually exchanging ideas and results to achieve a high level of synergy and interdisciplinary research.

ICTER’s overarching scientific objective is to thoroughly study the dynamics and plasticity of the human eye, leading to the development of new therapies and diagnostic tools. ICTER collaborates with some of the most prestigious ophthalmological institutions in Europe and North America, including the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the University of California, Irvine. ICTER was founded by Prof. Dr. hab. Maciej Wojtkowski, a laureate of the International Research Agendas program conducted by the Foundation for Polish Science.

The Project International Centre for Translational Eye Research (MAB/2019/12) is carried out under the International Research Agendas programme by the Foundation for Polish Science, co-financed from the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund.

Press release: editor & journalist Marcin Powęska.

Scientific proofreading: Dr. Karol Karnowski.

Media Contact:
Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz
Tel: +48 694 605 398 / E-mail: aprzybylo-jozefowicz@ichf.edu.pl.

15.09.2023

ICTER’s Overview Report 2019-2023

We are pleased to present the ICTER’s Overview Report for the years 2019-2023.

This report offers an insightful look into our organization:

  • Discover our dedicated team and their collaborative spirit.
  • Explore our unwavering mission to advance global eye health.
  • Learn about the funding that fuels our initiatives.
  • Gain insights into our impactful grant projects.
  • Trace our journey through a brief overview of our history.
  • Delve into our contributions to the field through publications.
  • Understand our communication and outreach strategies.
  • Explore our fruitful collaborations with industry.
  • Connect with our network and ecosystem.
  • Meet our diverse research groups and their focus areas.
  • Stay informed about our hosted events and notable visitors.
  • Join us in celebrating the recognition and awards received.

Discover the report and join us in our ongoing mission to make a positive impact on eye health globally.

04.09.2023

ICTER: Brightening Up Life (video about the activity of the International Centre for Translational Eye Research)

Scientists from the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) have undertaken the challenge of creating diagnostic technology that could prove to be fundamental for the understanding of eye diseases. Their solution will aid in the rapid diagnosis of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), inherited blindness, diabetic retinopathy, or retinal vascular occlusion.

The team of scientists at ICTER introduced a new functional imaging method called flicker-based Optoretinography (ORG). With this technique, nanometer-long changes in the length of photoreceptors associated with the vision process are recorded. The baseline technology behind our ORG is Spatio-Temporal Optical Coherence Tomography (STOC-T). ORG will enable ophthalmologists to diagnose diseases much faster and more effectively than today. Most importantly, the examination involving the patient will take just one-hundredth of a second.

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Film production: nFinity agency

Director: Radek Furmanek

Screenplay and title: Piotr Chaniecki, PhD MD

Animation: Ramona Visuals

Special guest appearance in the film: Prof. Olaf Strauss

Scientific coordination: Dr. Karol Karnowski

Optimization: Anna Salamończyk

Project coordination: Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz

Support: ICTER PR Team

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Thank you to all ICTER employees for their commitment to the film production process.