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Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is on the cutting-edge of medical technology and poised to become a valuable diagnostic tool in the next decade. Although the principles of OCT are increasingly applied for ophthalmologic examination, much work remains to apply this photonic technology toward new applications. When that happens, ELCAN Optical Technologies will be a pivotal partner to turn brilliant theory into innovative medical devices.
OCT combines the principles of ultrasound with the imaging performance of a microscope. While ultrasound produces images from backscattered sound "echoes," OCT uses IR light waves that reflect off the internal microstructures within biological tissues. The frequency and bandwidth of IR light are orders of magnitude higher than medical ultrasound signals, which increase image resolution by 8-25x. OCT is simple and painless, produces high-resolution real-time cross-sectional or 3-D images and is lower cost than imaging modalities that incorporate ionizing radiation, high magnetic fields or radioactive agents.
OCT uses a broadband light source (superluminescent diode, femtosecond lasers or white light with lower power) to generate infrared light waves. Theses waves are then split; one is aimed at the specimen, the other at a reference mirror. The reflected light is recombined and the resulting interference pattern is measured to determine the refractive index at different depths of tissue. These differences are indicative of the material properties of the specimen and can be used to determine if the tissue is healthy.
The most common use of OCT is in ophthalmology, where structural changes within the layers of the retina, indicative of macular and retinal degeneration are monitored. OCT also is demonstrating incredible promise in both diagnosis and treatment of the leading causes of death in North America—heart disease and cancer. Scientists, physicians and researchers are increasingly abandoning conventional imaging for OCT due to its near histological resolution without the need for excision or processing of the specimen.
Unstable plaques in the cardiovascular system may be responsible for up to 70 percent of all heart attacks. In vivo atherosclerotic plaque identification is possible with OCT and may make preventative treatment more effective and ultimately reduce fatalities.