23.11.2022

Eyes well – dressed. We talk about the latest fashion trends in eyewear optics with the owner of the Studio Optyk optical store, Jarosław Bugaj

Nowadays, eyewear is a product that combines such diverse fields of knowledge and human activity as materials engineering, advanced digital technologies, ophthalmology and optical knowledge, precision craftsmanship, industrial design and art, and even luxury brand marketing. And in this view, they fit perfectly into the translational nature of an eye research centre like ICTER. Therefore, today we would like to introduce you to the topic of eyeglasses and eyewear fashion from the perspective of a person for whom their production, individual selection and repair are a personal passion and professional challenge.

Is it true that each of us will need at least a pair of eyeglasses during our lifetime? 

– Yes, it is true. It is inevitable. Sooner or later, even if we have not had to deal with glasses, at some point in our lives we might develop a young presbyopia, which is the loss of elasticity of the intraocular lens. Suddenly, we find that our hand needs to be longer to provide the proper distance to read the fine print. Then it is time to visit the ophthalmologist, measure the refraction, and check how much the natural lens is no longer efficient.

– So this means that we improve our correction by fitting lenses. But after all, we want to look well and fashionable, regardless of gender and age. 

– Yes, and then, in addition to the choice of lenses, we are faced with the choice of frames, which is not as easy as we thought. There are a lot of factors to consider and, above all, at the end of the day you have to like yourself and feel good in that eyewear. Often, we also want it to be in line with current trends. It used to be that glasses did not mean that much as today; they were rather considered a necessary evil. One had to wear them because he or she could not see properly without them. Nowadays, we also care about looking good in glasses and having something remarkable on our face; comfort and quality of craftmanship are also important. You could say that there are waves in eyewear optics; for example, there was a fashion for wire frames, then came the style for frames made of mass (plastic), and more recently transparent. Now it is all a bit mixed up. On top of that, each of us has individual preferences. Some people prefer strong frames that are clearly noticeable on the face and will mark their character, and others prefer softer, more subtle frames. It is essential that it is stylish and comfortable and that the patient feels good in the eyeglasses because it is a prosthesis of our sight, after all.

– Who sets the fashion trends in eyewear? 

– These days, major fashion houses mainly create fashion trends for ladies and gentlemen through their biggest, often exclusive, and most recognizable brands. In almost every seasonal collection, eyewear – mainly sunglasses but also corrective frames – is an integral part of the designs presented on the catwalk. Trends are also currently set by celebrities and influencers. Famous people, artists, and so-called stars often appear in eyeglasses, wearing increasingly exciting models, especially sunglasses, including those from the catwalks. Thus, they are arousing the interest of at least part of the public. We often have patients who ask for frames that a particular celebrity wears. This is interesting insofar as each face needs a slightly different frame. The one in which Christopher looks elegant and chic will not necessarily satisfy Charles, who also may feel uncomfortable wearing such frames. You also need to pay particular attention to individual preferences when choosing glasses.

 – Eyewear fashion is mainly shaped by the dictates of fashion houses. But other trends may impact on what we wear every day, too. A strong trend at the moment is ecology and sustainability. What does this trend look like in eyewear fashion? 

 – More and more manufacturers use recycled materials to make frames for sun and eyeglasses. We collaborate with a company that produces frames from raw materials from recycled ocean rubbish. More and more admixtures of wood and other natural materials appear in frames, which were initially poorly used due to their fragility and breakability. Nowadays, they are enriched with special accelerated plates, which make the luminaire more flexible and usable for longer. 

– Speaking of materials, what other materials besides those mentioned are used to create the frames?

Obviously, plastic. Today it is characterized by its enormous strength and lightness. These are usually thick frames, although lightweight, and also quite soft and therefore recommended especially for children. For this purpose, zylonite, or cellulose acetate – a hypoallergenic plastic – is used, and epoxy resin, which, when heated, is very malleable and easily adapts to the shape of the face. Metals such as surgical steel, aluminum, titanium, or beryllium are also used to manufacture frames. It all depends on the customer’s preference and wallet, as some frames, such as titanium, can be pretty expensive.

– Can you give a second life to your old eyeglasses? 

– Yes, some companies and foundations, also in Poland, collect used or unused frames and eyeglasses from opticians. In fact, I always have frames in my salon that I will not use, also for spare parts when repairing my customers’ glasses. From time to time, we pack them up and send them to the place where the frames are refurbished. Then a group of ophthalmologists and/or optometrists go to third countries and make glasses for people locally from these collected frames, so that they can be reused so that someone enjoys it. We walk around in a frame for a few years and it doesn’t wear out completely; after a few treatments, it can be refreshed. These are also helpful training materials for schools that train personnel of optical stores and optometrists, and this field of education has been growing rapidly in Poland for at least 10 years.

– Can you tell us about your adventure in optics?  

– My company is a family business. The business was developed by my father and he taught me the craft from childhood. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am fascinated by glasses, optical technology, the selection of frames, how the eyeball is constructed, how the image forms on the retina. My dream is to go into optometry in the future. The current direction of optometry in Poland helps doctors to focus on the treatment of eye diseases, not only on the selection of vision correction. This is all the more so because technologies are becoming more and more advanced, the designs of the spectacle lenses themselves are basically changing from year to year, and the ophthalmologist is not necessarily aware of these design changes. The doctor focuses on the diseases, the final correction of the vision defect remains at the level of the personnel of optical store. When selecting glasses and frames, I prefer to check the prescription I get from the client, especially if it is for progressive or relaxed lenses, where there are progression channels or aberration zones. These are not big differences between the main prescription and my correction, often 0.5 dioptres or a slightly altered cylinder axis, but we are able to fine-tune this initial examination so as to squeeze the most out of the lens. Today’s lenses are more precise and require opticians to be more precise in their measurements as well. They are made using digital technology, where every 0.1 mm in fitting height or pupil distance or progression channel fit makes a huge difference to the patient. This significantly impacts patient’s comfort and adaptation to the new eyeglasses.


– Talking about technology, can you please tell us whether augmented reality is being used in the selection of frames, for example. Is this happening? 

– Yes, there are optical companies that are experimenting with it. The patient then stands in front of a device, a computer takes a scan of his or her face, then, based on an algorithm, calculates what frame would be optimal for that face and prints it in 3D. How this works in practice, I haven’t seen yet, but I’m curious to see if this selection – which is basically pure mathematics – will work in practice. After all, every face is different, and of course the computer can make very accurate scans, but whether this exact calculation will be good for a particular patient may always be a matter of dispute, as subjective issues come into play here, of one’s own judgement, which the machine is unable to assess. Of course, it is possible to write a program in which the patient can enter his or her preferences for such a setting, but there is no certainty that the final result will satisfy the patient. This already works in some places, but it is still not commercially applicable on a large scale. 

– Now, we often have several eyeglasses with different frames, especially when we have a visual impairment and do not want or cannot use contact lenses. We treat them a bit like a perfume or a watch. I am wearing this outfit today and I would like to wear matching eyeglasses.  

– Exactly, for me this is about sunglasses. I have a whole lot of them and I cannot get rid of any of them because I like them all. Today, glasses are an integral part of our image, whether we have a visual impairment or not. 

– While we are on the subject of functional glasses, what other types of glasses are still used in different areas of life? 

– There are, for example, sports glasses whose lenses are dedicated to golfers, pool players, runners, etc., who for various reasons cannot use contact lenses. Often these are special lenses, especially progressive lenses, designed to provide optimum functional comfort when playing specific sports. For example, for colliers who need to have full-spectrum vision. There are also safety glasses for people who work in difficult conditions – welders, turners – in which there is also the possibility of correction. An interesting example is ballistic goggles, designed mainly for advanced shooters over the age of 40, who encounter the problem inherent in all presbyopes, wanting to see the bow and target like in the good old days, but whose visual defect no longer allows them to do so. And this is also where dedicated glasses have their uses. 

– Where do you get from the eyewear that you offer? What are the leading countries in the production of frames and how does Poland rank against this?
 

– Poland ranks quite well, we have more and more domestic manufacturers of frames and the quality of these frames does not differ from their foreign competitors. The frames are really well made, high-quality materials are used in their production, and in terms of price they are definitely more friendly than foreign ones. I also have a wide range of frames from Italy and France in my showroom, as I love them for their design and often handmade, they are perfectly shaped and provide a high wearing quality. I also appreciate frames from Spain, which explode with colour and bold, modern styling, and are very lightweight and fun to wear. Polish frames are brilliantly made, but the design itself still needs work, and in this respect, we often take inspiration from foreign manufacturers. 

– How do you see the future of the eyewear industry?
 

– Since I have been in eyewear optics for more than 20 years, the industry has undergone a real revolution. Changes are happening right before our eyes, and they are being set by lifestyle, as customers’ needs are changing along with lifestyle changes. Hence the incredible popularity of sunglasses, which, in addition to their protective function, are actually a fashion accessory, new ideas from frame manufacturers for shapes, overlays, striking temples – everything that allows you to stand out from the crowd, emphasize your individuality and often also your material status. When it comes to design, many frame models are making a comeback. It could be said that every type of frame will have its time, albeit in a new guise. Also, material technology allows for incomparably more in design than before. 

Modern software on the ground of optical services is also entering the salons, including biometrics and VR technologies, which make it possible to acquire the extensive amount of data necessary to make individualized lenses optimally tailored to the needs of the individual patient. Such software is also being developed in Poland. In this respect, we are collaborating with Szajna in Gdynia, which is a manufacturer of progressive lenses and offers a VR diagnostic device to track the behaviour of the eye in real time with different accommodation and vision conditions. The data thus acquired provides additional information about the patient’s eye behaviour under different conditions and enables the optimal selection of progressive lenses. 

The future is happening today, and the optical industry itself has great potential for growth, not least because of the ever-increasing number of people requiring vision correction at different stages of life. I follow the latest eyewear trends with curiosity and attention in order to be able to provide my customers with a high-quality product that fully satisfies them medically, functionally and aesthetically.  

– Thank you very much for meeting me and I wish you the best of luck in the further development of your business!
 

The interview was written by Joanna Kartasiewicz, Research Funding Manager
, in collaboration with Jarosław Bugaj, owner of Studio Optyk Optical Store in Wolomin, near Warsaw. https://www.facebook.com/studiooptykwolomin/ 

Special thanks to Szajna company for the opportunity of testing their VR solution.

26.10.2022

How to improve microendoscopes? New probe design brings promises to improve biomedical imaging – paper in IEEE Photonics Journal by Karol Karnowski, PhD

Microendoscopes are the cornerstone of modern medical diagnostics – they allow us to see what we could not even describe two decades ago. The technology is constantly improving, with ICTER scientists contributing to the development of the probes.

Microendoscopes using fiber optics are becoming increasingly important imaging tools, but they have physical limitations. They are essential for applications that require a long working distance, high resolution, and a minimum probe diameter. The research paper titled “Superior imaging performance of all-fiber, two- focusing-element microendoscopes,” by Dr. Karol Karnowski of ICTER, Dr. Gavrielle Untracht of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Dr. Michael Hackmann of the University of Western Australia (UWA), Onur Cetinkaya of ICTER and Prof. David Sampson of the University of Surrey, sheds new light on modern microendoscopes. It is noteworthy that the research work started while the authors worked in the same research group at UWA.

In it, the researchers showed that endoscopic imaging probes, particularly those for so-called side viewing, combining fiber-optic (GRIN) and spherical lenses, offer excellent performance over the entire range of numerical apertures and open the way to a broader range of imaging applications. In the publication, the performance of endoscopic imaging probes is comparable to commonly used single focusing element probes.

Photo: Karol Karnowski

What are microendoscopes?

Miniature fiber-optic probes, or micro-endoscopes, allow imaging of tissue microstructures deep into the specimen or patient. Endoscopic Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is particularly promising. It is suitable for volumetric imaging of external tissues and the interior of organs (e.g., the upper respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, or lung tubules).

Three main ranges of fiber optic probes can be distinguished. Studies of large, hollow organs (such as those above the upper respiratory tract) require the largest imaging depth ranges (up to 15 mm or more from the probe surface), which can usually be achieved with low-resolution Gaussian beams (spot size in focus in the range of 30-100 μm). The intermediate resolution range (10-30 μm) is helpful for broader applications, such as imaging the esophagus, smaller airways, blood vessels, bladder, ovaries, or ear canal. The biggest challenge is obtaining beams with a resolution better than 10 μm, potentially helpful for animal model studies.

Photo: Karol Karnowski

When developing a probe, one must be mindful of design parameters’ trade-offs and their impact on imaging performance. Optical systems with a large numerical aperture (high resolution) tend to have a shorter working distance (WD). In addition, better resolution and longer working distance are more difficult to achieve as the probe diameter is reduced. This can be particularly problematic for side viewing probes – a greater minimum working distance is required compared to their forward imaging counterparts. Suppose the probe is encased in a catheter or needle. In that case, this increases the required minimum working distance – in many cases, this is the limiting factor in minimum achievable resolution or probe diameter.

It’s worth noting that engineers are usually interested in minimizing the probe diameter for reduced perturbation to the sample and patient comfort. A smaller probe means a more flexible catheter and, therefore, better tolerance of the test by the patient. Thus, one of the best solutions is using monolithic fiber optic probes, whose diameter is limited by the thickness of the optical fibers. Such probes are characterized by ease of fabrication, thanks to fiber-optic welding technology, which avoids the need for tedious alignment and bonding (usually gluing) of individual micro-optical components.

Photo: Karol Karnowski

Different types of microendoscopes

The most popular designs of fiber-optic imaging probes are those based on two types of focusing elements: GRIN fiber probes (GFP – GRIN fiber probes) and ball lens probes (BLP – ball lens probes). GRIN probes are easy to make, and their GRIN refractive power is not lost when the refractive index of the surrounding medium is close to that of the fiber used. Commercially available GRIN fibers limit achievable designs. High resolution is tough to achieve with GRIN fibers with small core diameters.

For lateral viewing probes, the curved surface of the fiber (and potentially the catheter) introduces distortion that can adversely affect imaging quality. Spherical BLP probes will not have this problem, but a sphere bigger than the fiber diameter is often required to achieve a resolution comparable to GFP probes. The focusing power of a BLP probe depends on the refractive index of the surrounding medium, which is an important issue when working in a medium with close or near biological samples.

One solution to improve the performance of probes is to use multiple light focusing elements, similar to the design of lenses with a long working distance. Studies have shown that combining numerous light-focusing elements provides better results for many imaging purposes. Probes with multiple focusing elements can achieve better resolution with smaller diameters while offering longer working distances without sacrificing resolution.

How do we improve the probes?

In their latest work, researchers led by Dr. Karnowski have shown that probes with two focusing elements using both GRIN segments and spherical lenses – called GRIN-ball-lens probes (GBLP) – significantly improve the performance of monolithic fiber optic probes. Their first modeling results have already been shown at conferences in 2018 and 2019. GBP probes were compared to the most commonly used GFP and BLP probes and showed performance benefits, especially for applications requiring longer operating distances, better resolution, and small size.

For intuitive visualization of probe performance, the researchers introduced a novel way to comprehensively present simulation results, especially useful when more than two variables are used. Analysis of the effect of GRIN fiber length and spherical lens size led to two interesting conclusions: for optimal results, the range of GRIN fiber length can be kept in the field of 0.25-0.4 pitch length (so-called pitch length); even if the working distance (WD) gain is not so significant for GBLP probes with high numerical aperture, the authors showed that the same or better performance in terms of working distance is achieved for a search with twice the diameter. Moreover, the novel GBLP probes offer higher resolution compared to BLP probes.

Photo: Bartłomiej A. Bałamut

The paper’s conclusion reads:

We have demonstrated the potential of GBLP probe design for applications with increased working distance, significant for lateral imaging probes, with a highly reduced impact of the refractive index of the probe’s environment and a significantly smaller size compared to BLP or GFP probes. These advantages make GBLP probes a tool worth considering for many imaging applications in biological and biomedical research, particularly for projects requiring micro endoscopes.

Author of the press release: Marcin Powęska

Note: The first results from “GRIN-ball-lens probes (GBLP)” modeling have already been shown at the 2018 and 2019 conferences:

– Karol Karnowski, Gavrielle R. Untracht, Michael J. Hackmann, Mingze Yang, Onur Cetinkaya, David D. Sampson, “Versatile, all-fiber, side viewing imaging probe for applications in catheter-based optical coherence tomography,” Photonics West, San Francisco, USA, Feb 2019, oral presentation;

– K. Karnowski, G. Untracht, M. Hackmann, M. Yang, O. Cetinkaya, and D. D. Sampson, “Versatile, monolithic imaging probes for catheter-based OCT,” 15th Conference on Optics Within Life Sciences, Rottnest Island, Australia, Nov. 2018, poster presentation.

The team responsible for these results started at the University of Western Australia (UWA), and work has now been completed within the following institutions: the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Surrey, one of the authors only remaining at UWA.

Photos by: Karol Karnowski, PhD and Bartłomiej A. Bałamut, MSc

Photographers’ comment: One of the key components of the developed probes is a spherical surface on the tip of the fiber. In the photos, we used the imaging capabilities of such spherical elements (glass sphere).

Cited paper: K. Karnowski, G. Untracht, M. Hackmann, O. Cetinkaya and D. Sampson, “Superior Imaging Performance of All-Fiber, Two-Focusing-Element Microendoscopes,” in IEEE Photonics Journal, vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 1-10, Oct. 2022, Art no. 7152210, doi: 10.1109/JPHOT.2022.3203219.

Funding sources:

  • Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) through the Polish Returns Program
  • University of Western Australia IPRS  
  • Rank Prize Covid Fund 
  • Australian Research Council  
  • University of Surrey 
Photo: Karol Karnowski
DOI Number:
13.10.2022

World Sight Day 2022

World Sight Day celebrated annually on the second Thursday of October, is a global event meant to draw attention to blindness and vision impairments. It was originally initiated by the Sight First Campaign of Lions Club International Foundation in 2000. It has since been integrated into VISION 2020 and is coordinated by IAPB in cooperation with the World Health Organization. Every year they have different themes to celebrate World Sight Day. In 2021, The ‘Love Your Eyes’ campaign encourages individuals to take care of their own eye health and draws attention to over a billion people worldwide who have vision loss and do not have access to eye care services. 

Vision plays the most important role in seeing this beautiful world. The eye and the brain work together to help in proper vision mechanisms. These include cornea, lens, retina and optic nerves. Cornea is the front layer of the eye and it works by bending the light that enters into the eye. Lens is behind the iris and the pupil and it works with your cornea to focus the light that enters into the eye, much like a camera. The lens brings the image in front of you into a sharp focus, which allows you to see clearly. Retina is located at the back of the eye, which transforms the light into electrical signals. These signals are sent to the brain where they are recognized as images and the optic nerve transmits the electrical signals formed in the retina to the brain. Finally, the brain creates the images with the received electrical signal or stimulus. The photoreceptor cells involved in the visual cycle are the rods, cons the photosensitive ganglion cells. The rods mainly deal with low light level and do not mediate colour vision. On the other hand, the cones can code the colour of an image and contains three different types of cones. Each cone has different opsin so they will respond to a certain wavelength, or colour and light. The classical visual cycle is initiated by the conversion of a single photon of light energy into an electrical signal in the retina. The signal transduction occurs because of opsin which is a G protein-coupled receptor and it contains 11-cis-retinal chromophore. When a photon strikes, the phototransduction mechanism begins along with several cascade mechanisms. 11-cis-retinal undergoes photoisomerization to all-trans-retinal leading to a change in the conformation of opsin GPCR. The collective changes in the receptor potential of rods and cone cells due to phototransduction triggers nerve impulses that our brain interprets as a vision. After the isomerization procedure, and release from opsin, all-trans-retinal is reduced to all-trans-retinol and then transferred to the retinal pigment epithelium. In retinal pigment epithelium cells, several steps take place like esterification and many other that lead to the generation of 11-cis-retinol which is further oxidized to 11-cis-retinal before returning to the photoreceptors to combine with opsin to form rhodopsin.  

The vision in vertebrates is completely dependent on the continuous supply of 11-cis-retinal chromophore. There are several enzymes involved in the visual cycle and mutation in the genes of retinoid cycle proteins frequently causes impaired vision. Mutation in retinol dehydrogenase enzyme 5 causes only a mild clinical phenotype defect in the eye but mutation in RPE65 causes the severe blinding disease called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). Mutations in the gene rhodopsin are the major cause of Retinal Pigmentosa, in the form of autosomal dominant and recessive retinal pigmentosa. Knockout mice with a mutation in the rod opsin gene stop to form rod outer segment and have no rod electroretinographic (ERG) response but shows a cone response early in life and eventually disappear at three months of age.  

The Stargardt Macular Degeneration is the most commonly inherited maculopathy occurs in the young age. The symptoms of this disease start with blurred vision with progressive loss of central vision, central blind spots and a diminished ability to perceive colours. It is characterized by the accumulation of lipofuscin pigment in the RPE cells, which leads to the degeneration and death of the photoreceptor cells. This disease is mainly caused by the mutation in ABCR4 gene.

In the visual cycle, all-trans-retinal is reduced to a less toxic form all-trans-retinol by several alcohol dehydrogenases like RDH8 and RDH12. No mutation in RDH8 has been associated with a retinal dystrophy in humans. Mice with a knockout mutation in the RDH8 gene show normal kinetics of rhodopsin regeneration and delayed recovery of sensitivity following exposure to bright light.

There are three ways to treat the disease caused by mutations in retinoid cycle genes that have been investigated yet. The first is the replacement of defective genes by viral gene therapy. Replacement of the gene has been successful in models organism mice and dogs for LCA caused by a mutation in the RPE65 gene.  Clinical trials in humans with RPE65mediated LCA are set to begin soon.The second strategy involves the pharmacologic replacement of missing chromophore. It is suitable for diseases caused by impaired chromophore biogenesis, such as RPE65-mediated LCA.

As we are already discussed every enzyme/protein has its own significance in the visual cycle, the third strategy for the remedy of visual impairment is to slow down the synthesis of chromophore by inhibiting some steps in the visual cycle or limiting the availability of all-trans-retinol precursors. This approach is applicable to diseases associated with the accumulation of toxic lipofuscin fluorophores such as A2E. By partially depleting rhodopsin, the amount of all-trans-retinal released by light exposure is reduced.

Apart from them, there are so many common diseases associated with vision which are also the leading cause of blindness and low vision at an early stage of life. Some of the prominent diseases are age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Refractive errors are the most common eye disease reported in a majority of the population. These include myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances). These can be rectified/corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses and laser therapy, which is nowadays also a common approach. Cataract is another disease which is a leading cause of blindness across worldwide. In the cataract, patient observed clouding of the eye’s lens which leads to blurring of the vision. It can be cured with the help of laser therapy but access barriers, treatment costs and lack of awareness in developing and poor countries makes it one of the serious cause of vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication generated due to diabetes. In this disease, new fragile blood vessels get generated and they are quite leaky in nature. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.

In the current era, few routes of drug delivery are possible to rectify visual impairment or ocular diseases with retinoid analogues. These potentially available retinoid drugs could be delivered by eye drops, intraocular injection into different compartments of the eye, or periorbital injections into the fat surrounding the eye. The major drawback in the field of ophthalmology is not having high-resolution images of retina. But Nowadays the ray of hope is emerging with a new application of two-photon microscopy that exploits the intrinsic fluorescence of retinoids, permits visualization of RPE-cell structures in live animals. With further development, this technique may provide new information about retinoid metabolism and the response to treat the eye disease in humans.

Authorship: Integrated Structural Biology Group

30.08.2022

“The face of a modern Renaissance man” – an interview with Dr. Jakub Bogusławski, engineer of useful lasers

Jakub Boguslawski, Ph.D., is a scientist and engineer working on a new generation of compact, femtosecond fiber lasers for biomedical applications. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Physical Optics and Biophotonics group at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER), and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Electronics, Photonics, and Microsystems at Wrocław University of Science and Technology. In a recent interview for Poland Weekly, ICTER head Prof. Maciej Wojtkowski described Jakub as one of the representatives of the group who are pioneering unprecedented solutions and highlighted that “these small miracles are done by them every day, when they finish one, they start a new challenge” which proves their exceptionality. Jakub deals with a field of science that arouses a lot of emotions, both positive and negative; it is a field so far little understood by the general public, but invariably associated with solutions of the future and modern technology. We are aware that lasers can be deadly weapons, but we also have an idea that they can be used for other purposes. We talk about one of these useful purposes of lasers with Jakub Bogusławski in an interview in which he tells us about the underpinnings of his work and introduces us to the image of a man who builds lasers for the benefit of society.

Jakub, you work at the International Centre for Translational Eye Research (ICTER) designing lasers, a rather unobvious connection, as it is difficult at first glance to find a common ground between these two worlds. So tell us, what do lasers and eyes have in common, and isn’t this combination destructive?

On the contrary. On the one hand, if we recall the lasers presented in movies and imagine the laser beam hitting the human eye, we become concerned that the organ would be irreparably damaged. However, let’s not succumb to the illusion of Hollywood fiction. Of course, lasers can be harmful to the human body at a high dose of energy. However, the development of science and a better understanding of the functioning of living organisms has allowed us to create conditions in which this type of energy is harmless and even proves useful. Examples include early diagnosis of eye diseases or developing new ophthalmic therapies.

So, to the question of what lasers and eyes have in common, the answer is that the contact of a laser light beam with the human eye can provide a lot of helpful information. How does this happen? The introduction of laser light into the eye, specifically into the retina and retinal pigment epithelium, results in fluorescence excitation. The fluorescence is emitted by naturally occurring fluorophores present in the eye. On its way out of the eye, the light is recorded using a highly sensitive photodetector, a photomultiplier. The optical system used here is called a scanning laser ophthalmoscope and is an entirely non-invasive and non-contact system. It first feeds light into the eye in the right way and then leads the light from the eye to the photodetector. The whole process is based on guiding light into and out of the eye, then the resulting data is processed in a computer, and we get an image that can then be analyzed and interpreted. The optical system is a bit similar to the OCT currently used in ophthalmologists’ offices. However, we only use a different light to excite and record the effects occurring in the eye. This phenomenon is called two-photon excited fluorescence.

Tell us what you do in your work.

I am a laser engineer, and I am involved in designing and developing new configurations of femtosecond lasers, that is, lasers that generate very short pulses of light. In the context of eye research, this property is beneficial because it solves the problem of lack of access to fluorophores in the retina and retinal pigment epithelium. The retina is at the back of the eye, and various fluorophores provide information about the functioning of that retina so that we can identify what changes occur there. The technical challenge is that those fluorophores can be stimulated using UV light because they absorb light in the range of these wavelengths. Nevertheless, such radiation cannot be shone into a person’s eye because it has high energy and would immediately destroy it. We have discovered that by using ultrashort infrared pulses, this problem can be solved by two-photon absorption, using two photons of half the energy, which is safe for the human eye. With this technology, we can safely bring this light into the eye and access those fluorophores that we could not access before. This is complementary information that, in other ways, no one could get in a way safe for human vision, at least at the moment. And this is precisely what femtosecond pulses are needed for, with adequately selected parameters: they must be calibrated in the right spectral range, very short, and with a specific repetition rate. Such lasers so far did not exist, they could not be bought, and we undertook to design and construct a special laser with precisely these parameters, which are optimal.

A whole group of people under the leadership of professor Grzegorz Soboń at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology was involved in constructing the first laser with the parameters mentioned above. Although I was not involved in the first stages, having joined the team in Wrocław more than a year ago, I am now engaged in the engineering and construction this type of system. All the components needed for the construction of this laser are commercially available; nevertheless, since it is a fiber laser, its construction is based on different types of optical fibers, which need to be adequately designed, and then combined to shape the radiation properly. It is a proprietary, high-precision, and high-tech art of engineering.

What values guide you in your scientific work?

I think it would be the usefulness. I want the things I do to be useful to someone, to create new opportunities, and to solve existing problems. What we are doing at ICTER is an excellent example because it is not art for art’s sake or science for science’s sake, but we have a specific problem to solve. Our goal is fundamental: to protect people’s eyesight, help diagnose eye diseases and develop new ophthalmic therapies.

What are the biggest challenges and most beautiful aspects of scientific work?

The biggest challenge for all scientists is to know what problem to tackle because the number of possibilities is enormous, and humanity already knows a great deal. Identifying a problem and defining it, then choosing whether this path we want to take makes sense, whether anyone needs it, whether it has a chance of succeeding, or whether it is worth pursuing, is perhaps the most challenging question. In particular, there are also huge costs along the way because this research is expensive, and many people are involved. Much time is devoted to it, and at the beginning, it is unclear whether it makes sense, whether it can be done, or whether it will not be a wasted effort. On the other hand, this can also lead to those most beautiful aspects of scientific work, because working on a scientific problem can go in such an unexpected direction. We can encounter a lot of surprises and unforeseen twists and turns. We can plan something for ourselves, and later it turns out we are somewhere else than we thought we would be. For a scientist, this is fascinating.

Tell us about your passions outside of work.

My biggest passion is food, which means both cooking and eating. I like to read books about cuisine and watch cooking shows. When I travel, I try to find out what is typical food in a particular place and why people eat it; it interests me. Besides, I also do sports of various kinds, such as running, hiking, biking, and water sports, especially windsurfing. I have participated in several marathons.

I see that your eyes have two different colors. What is the reason for this condition, and how do you feel about having such outstanding eyes? Did it influence your decision to do research specifically on eyesight?

Dr. Jakub Bogusławski. Photo: Dr. Karol Karnowski

This effect is called heterochromia, a genetic defect that occurs in less than 1% of the population, but it does not affect vision or have any effects other than the different colored irises. Occasionally someone will notice that one is green and the other brown, but most people do not react to my eyes at all. This condition did not influence my decision to work at ICTER. I am here by accident. I only deal with eyes because I deal with lasers, and the utility of lasers in the context of eye research led me to our centre. These lasers I am constructing could be useful for seeing something more in the human eye than we could see before.

What are your career plans for the next ten years?

First of all, I want the results of my work to be useful. I want to construct devices that will work and can be used by someone. I want these lasers to be able to do something good for society. I dream that the things I construct will be helpful and practically used. For example, the new fluorescence imaging of the eye, can be used clinically and get information that will help diagnose ocular diseases earlier. More broadly, I would like to look for new practical applications of these lasers that we can build because they are quite unique, so these features can be used somewhere it really makes sense. Such a laser is quite complicated, quite expensive, so I would like to find such applications that give enough new information and possibilities that it makes practical sense to use them.

At the moment, I plan to further develop my career in Poland, you can do research here at a very good level, and I feel good here. I have traveled abroad several times for scientific internships, including working at the University of California Irvine in Prof. Krzysztof Palczewski’s group, where we built a similar set-up to the one we have in Warsaw. Since there is an ophthalmology department, ophthalmic companies and doctors are working there, it is a good place to test this method on patients with eye diseases. Previously, I also trained in Stockholm at the Royal Institute of Technology KTH, Aalto University in Finland, and Helmholtz-Zentrum in Dresden. All of these visits involved the development of new types of lasers or developing femtosecond pulse shaping techniques.

I am just starting an NCN-funded grant in which my team of 3 and I will work on a new class of laser for two-photon excited fluorescence ophthalmoscopy. We want to develop a “smart” femtosecond laser that can adapt its parameters by itself to the object being imaged. The title of the grant is “Adaptive femtosecond pulse source for multiphoton fluorescence microscopy and ophthalmoscopy,” and the project will be carried out at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology. So the implementation of this grant is undoubtedly one of the plans for the next few years.

Thank you for this interview, Jakub. I am uplifted by your attitude and wish you good luck with all your plans.

Although he is developing laser technologies of the future that will shape the progress of ophthalmology, Dr. Jakub Bogusławski is a humble scientist. The greatest value that guides his work is utility directed at solving existing research problems. Through it, he shifts the hitherto existing boundaries of science. To Jakub and his teams from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology and ICTER, we owe the invention of lasers whose beams can be shone harmlessly into the human eye to gain crucial information for advancing the early diagnosis and developing new therapies for eye diseases.

The interview with Dr. Jakub Bogusławski was conducted by Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz

Photos: Dr. Karol Karnowski

10.08.2022

Successful science communication – interview with Brook Hardwick, Head of ICFO’s Corporate Communications

Those of our scientists whose earlier careers were associated with ICFO, a research centre of excellence launched in 2002 by the Government and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, have always held this institute in high regard for its professionalism in every aspect of its activities. As a result, we have also observed ICFO’s good communication practices, following their social media, website, and newsletters. As is often the case when admiring someone’s work, sooner or later, one finds a way to get closer and learn more, to study the ins and outs of their professional practice. A few months ago, we established direct contact with the Corporate Communications Unit, headed by Brook Hardwick, for more than 11 years. We are honored that Brook agreed to give us an interview and share her in-depth knowledge and extensive experience in promoting research and science. Her contribution can benefit both ours and other RDI centres, as ICFO represents some of the best European standards in science PR. Let us move on to the interview, during which Brook answers questions about what is most important in communicating knowledge, the challenges and fascinating aspects of her work, and what she wishes for herself as Head of ICFO’s Corporate Communications Unit in the future.

In your opinion, does the location affect the way science is communicated?

Our Communication team is diverse in terms of backgrounds, nationalities and ages and when we put our heads together, we are creative and highly productive- it is a great working environment. Our unit reflects the rest of our institute in this way- when you bring together highly motivated people who love what they do and enjoy collaborating with people who have different perspectives, there is no telling what you will come up with!

You worked at the Institute of Higher Business Studies (IESE) in Barcelona for more than 12 years. What are the most important learnings and PR strategies gained there, which prepared you for your current position at ICFO?

Both institutes have strategies focusing on institutional excellence and attention to detail, so while one institute focused on international business and the other on producing scientific advances at the very highest international level, some of the core tenets are the same. I have had the privilege of working with exceptionally smart and motivated people and to be in a position to document their advances and their stories. I have spent my entire adult life in very international surroundings which made it easy to slip into my current position at this amazingly international institute. Related to this, I have learned over the years to partner with colleagues with very different backgrounds than my own- colleagues in administration, researchers and students. I think that to work in a communications role, you need to be interested in people, their success stories and their ambitions. This for me has always been the best part of the job and has been an important strategic focus for both of these institutions.

What are the biggest challenges that you consider the Communication & PR divisions of scientific institutions are facing nowadays?

There are so many challenges- fake news and the danger of hype to begin with. Rigorous scientific journalism is competing for the attention of audiences who are accustomed to click-bait/sensationalized stories. Clearly, we have to uphold standards and focus on accuracy while finding new ways to reach wider audiences and tell our story in engaging ways. ICFOnians do basic and applied work in themes relevant to medicine and biology, advanced imaging techniques, information technologies and a range of environmental sensors, tunable and ultra-fast lasers, quantum science, photovoltaics and the properties and applications of nano-materials such as graphene, among others. In this long and incomplete list, there is some very sexy stuff, but sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to get the media to pay attention if you are not announcing a cure to cancer or the discovery of a new planet.

What is your magic recipe for getting the general public interested in the world of science?

I am not sure we have a magic recipe but I would say that in the Communications team, we are very lucky to have a great science writer with a strong physics background who gets just as excited about cool findings as members of the ICFO research teams and works very hard to make sure that those ideas are well conveyed to a large range of audiences. It helps to have someone in the team who “speaks the language” of science. We are working more and more with multi-media and making sure that we have a strong digital presence so that our messages reach target audiences.
This is not just the goal of the Communications team. We have an amazing and proactive Knowledge and Tech Transfer team that the Communications unit actively supports. They have some members of the team that focus on Outreach activities for schools and the general public and others that work closely with companies to take scientific advances from the lab to industry. Knowledge and Technology Transfer is part of ICFO’s core mission as an institute.

How do scientists at your institution approach the promotion of research achievements, and what works best in terms of encouraging them to cooperate with your unit fully?

Our director has always seen the importance of communicating high-impact science- it is good to have the support from above when you need to convince a very busy scientist to participate in a communication initiative. That being said, most ICFO researchers are happy to see their important findings get attention and know that we are here to help.
At the same time, competitive funding agencies are increasingly demanding when it comes to the dissemination of the results of projects. Even the most reticent scientist understands that the general public is funding science and should have an idea of what their tax money is paying for.

What do you think are the five key elements of success in popularizing science?

a. Great raw material (cool science).
b. Scientists who know how to explain their research in a simple way.
c. Presenting science in a wide range of formats (videos, infographics, photos, insta-stories) to give the public “easy” ways to absorb and understand science.
d. Finding good partners – there are journalists doing great work and social media influencers who want to be affiliated with/ connected to new ideas. These relationships are important.
e. Creative outreach units that work with teachers and schools to present complicated topics to young minds.

What is your biggest dream as the Head of the Corporate Communications Unit at ICFO, meaning what impact you would like to achieve in the community?

My dream is that every person living in Barcelona would be just as proud of the science produced in their city as of the football played in Camp Nou.

On behalf of ICTER, thank you very much for your valuable insight, Brook.

Although our institutions are demonstrably different in size – there are twenty-five research groups at ICFO, while ICTER has five – we have a fundamental similarity: both centres’ Communications teams are passionate about presenting groundbreaking research and scientific discoveries in such a way that every person can understand their meaning, importance, and impact on the improvement of health, advancement of knowledge, and development of humanity.

Brook Hardwick. Image credit: ICFO| Vanessa Montero.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Anna Przybyło-Józefowicz, Communications & PR Manager at ICTER.

28.07.2022

“Prometheans of the future” – interview published in Poland Weekly magazine

On July 28th, 2022 the magazine the English-language magazine Poland Weekly published the article “Prometheans of the future. How an international team of scientists based in Poland fights a global battle for our eyes.” This material features a series of interviews with the Principal Investigators leading our five research groups. They talk about their research achievements, long-term goals, scientific challenges, dreams, and their concept of sight.

Read the article on Poland’s Weekly website.

19.07.2022

How to inhibit photoreceptor death? A new way to fight pigmentary retinopathy

Why do photoreceptors in the retina die? Can this process be inhibited? Research conducted by an international team of scientists, with the participation of Dr. Andrzej Foik of ICTER, may help develop therapies to slow vision loss.

Retinal degeneration is a multifaceted disorder with many etiologies, and it is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. Some cases of this retinal disorder have a genetic basis. Thus, mutations that cause photoreceptor death are well known. However, the pathophysiology within the retina and along the visual pathway has been impossible to decipher in the early stages of the disease.

In the paper, “Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice,” published in eNeuro, the researchers have studied the visual functions of the retina, midbrain, and visual cortex in animal models of retinal degeneration. The authors of the report are Henri Leinonen, David C. Lyon, Krzysztof Palczewski, and Andrzej Foik. The research is of great importance, as it could lead to the development of new diagnostic methods for early detection of eye diseases that cause blindness.

“We found that the visual system adapts to the loss of photoreception by increasing sensitivity, but simultaneously becomes deleteriously hyperactive. Understanding this mechanism could lead to therapeutic protection and restoration of vision,” says Andrzej Foik, Ph.D. of ICTER.

How does retinal degeneration occur?

Retinal degeneration is the result of several eye diseases that involve degradation of the retina and loss of photoreceptor function. The most common forms of retinal degeneration are macular degeneration (AMD; Age-Related Macular Degeneration) and pigmentary retinopathy (RP; Retinitis Pigmentosa). These diseases have quite diverse outcomes; with AMD there is a loss of central vision, while with RP the patient stops seeing peripherally.

The retina is the light-sensitive layer lining the inside back of the eye, containing the photoreceptors (cones and rods). These receptors catch the light and convert it into electrical impulses, which are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain. This is how we see the world. The central part of the retina is the macula, comprising an area about 5 mm in diameter that contains the greatest number of cone photoreceptors. The macula is responsible for the sharpest vision.

Macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease in which progressive death of photoreceptors is concentrated in the macula, resulting in deterioration of central vision and distorted images. Although its precise mechanism is unknown, AMD is considered the most common cause of irreversible vision loss after age 50. That is why it is essential to diagnose AMD as early as possible, so that appropriate treatment could be implemented to slow or halt progression of the disease.

Pigmentary retinopathy (RP), on the other hand, is an inherited disease of the retina, linked to various genetic syndromes. During its development, clusters of pigment (initially small) appear in the fundus, which thickens over time, preventing normal vision. The disease is highly variable in presentation, and many experienced ophthalmologists have trouble diagnosing it correctly. Patients with pigmentary retinopathy are often left with only limited central vision, or “tunnel vision,” which deteriorates over time. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for pigmentary retinopathy, although experimental gene therapies are being tested worldwide.

Visual pathway hyperexcitability

In the study “Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice,” an international team of scientists investigated the processes involved in early-stage pigmentary retinopathy in RhoP23H/WT mice, an animal model of the disease. The researchers used various diagnostic techniques – electroretinography (ERG), measurement of optomotor response (OMR), evoked visual potentials (VEP), and electrophysiology of single neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1).

The mice were divided into two groups: young (one-month-old) and adult (three-month-old). There was noticeable hypersensitivity to light (30% higher ERG values) and visual hyperactivity in the new cortex in all RhoP23H/WT mice, but the effect was more pronounced in the young animals.

“Our data suggest that the visual pathway becomes hyperactive during early RP. This may have both compensatory and detrimental consequences for visual behavior. Further research into the mechanisms of hyperactivity is warranted, as it may lead to therapeutic interventions in RP,” adds Andrzej Foik, Ph.D. of ICTER.

A complete understanding of pigmentary retinopathy offers a better chance of halting progression of the disease. Previous studies have shown that very high daily doses of vitamin A (15,000 IU/d) can slow the progression of RP by about 2% per year, but such an intervention must be considered carefully because high dose vitamin A is not without potential side effects to our liver. Thanks to the research in which Dr. Andrzej Foik participated, it will be possible to determine who is at risk for RP before the disease has even begun to manifest itself.

Author of the press release: Marcin Powęska

Photos: dr Karol Karnowski

Publication:

Henri Leinonen, David C. Lyon, Krzysztof Palczewski, Andrzej T. Foik
Visual System Hyperexcitability and Compromised V1 Receptive Field Properties in Early-Stage Retinitis Pigmentosa in Mice, eNeuro 14 June 2022, 9 (3) ENEURO.0107-22.2022; DOI:
https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0107-22.2022

18.07.2022

Maestro project funded by NCN: discovering a new STOC-T method for imaging

In this project, we proposed a new approach to control the coherence of light used in imaging. This novel idea, which we verified experimentally, was used to image the skin, cornea and retina of the human eye in vivo. As a result, we created a new method for imaging biological objects, which we called spatio-temporal optical coherence tomography (STOC-T).

In our work, we carried out basic research by introducing a specific model of light scattering using the statistical properties of light (spatial and temporal coherence). We proposed experiments to verify the correctness of the introduced model. A laboratory set-up was also created based on the experimental setup demonstrating the capabilities of the new method in biomedical imaging. We demonstrated the feasibility of the new method for in vivo imaging, which confirmed the validity of the theses put forth in this project. 

We demonstrated the practical effects of our research by imaging the human eye. For corneal imaging, with STOC-T we were able to significantly increase the exposure time without exposing the deeper, delicate retina. At the same time, it allows us to maintain a high power density of light so that we can see very little backscatter from the cornea. In addition, the volumetric nature of the collected data allowed us to optically “flatten” the curvature of the cornea and obtain exceptionally sharp images of all the layers that make up the cornea across the entire cross-section. This is not an easy art, because the transparency of the cornea, although it allows one to look inside the eye, does not at all facilitate the examination of the eye itself.

In the case of retinal imaging, we have shown that we can penetrate deeper into areas under the retina that previously could not be imaged. In particular, using STOC-T for retinal imaging has allowed us to reconstruct the morphology of the cones in the human eye. In addition, by using a super-fast camera that captures tens of thousands of frames per second, we can capture images instantly.  Our STOC-T method allows us to capture the retina in a fraction of a second and record all its depth in extremely high, unprecedented resolution. The patient doesn’t even have time to blink, and his eye is already imaged, and with an accuracy that allows us to see even individual cells. And even if the subject were to move his or her eye, the device, or rather the computer, would compensate for the movement, still producing a sharp image. In addition, our camera has no moving parts, and thanks to the phase modulation of the laser beam, we can use higher powers without harming the deeper tissues of the eye.

Text: prof. Maciej Wojtkowski and dr Dawid Borycki