University of Pittsburgh students develop hands-free OCT mount device

Four University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) students have developed a mechanical extension that enables surgeons to more efficiently view patients' eyes during surgical procedures that involve optical coherence tomography (OCT). Their device, dubbed the Mount for Optical Coherence Tomography (M-OCT), is a mechanical arm that holds a handheld OCT system steady, thereby freeing the surgeon’s hands.

Related: Low-cost OCT probe targets primary care, developing countries

The M-OCT device enables placement of a handheld OCT instrument in a fitted mount, which extends off a mechanical arm that allows the surgeon to position the fixture directly over the patient. The arm pivots to allow a circular motion around the entire diameter of the eye.

Ken Nischal, a pediatric surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), was the first to use the mount and has since used the device in five surgeries, as well as on four other occasions to view the eyes of patients before or after surgery. The mount gives surgeons a consistent method that allows for repeated and accurate imaging of patients’ eyes, he says, adding that it has been used in surgeries that utilize stem cells to restore vision to blind children.

Kira Lathrop, a research instructor at UPMC's Swanson School of Engineering, aided the students in the project, and describes the OCT device that she had been using in surgery as a handheld instrument that looked similar to a hair dryer.

Previously, surgeons manually held the OCT device, which made it difficult to work with the instrument for long periods of time. It also made the movements less precise because it was physically difficult for a person to move the microscope around the eye during surgery.

Nischal says that he and Lathrop had discussed the difficulties of using the handheld OCT device, and Lathrop then relayed that information to the team of ESMD students—Harrison Harker, Ian McIntyre, Stephanie Lee, and Nathan Smialek. With Lathrop’s help, the group then began working on mount designs for the M-OCT in November 2012.

Lathrop says that the group learned from trial and error and hands-on experience in the design of the M-OCT. Over the course of the past year, the group made adjustments to the design until they agreed on a finished product, which they submitted to the annual MG Wells Student Healthcare Entrepreneurship Competition.

The group recently filed for a patent for the M-OCT design, and is now considering licensing the M-OCT with OCT microscope manufacturers.

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