Adaptive optics imaging applications to understand the structure and function of the human visual system
This summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Jessica Morgan in the Morgan laboratory in the Department of Ophthalmology as well as consult with researchers in the Aguirre-Brainard laboratory upon data analysis. Dr. Morgan’s lab focuses on the study of the human visual system using innovative imaging technology including adaptive optics ophthalmoscopy and optical coherence tomography. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a form of optical imaging employing light interference to visualize the retinal layers, and my project is centered around analysis of OCT images from a database of normal sighted subjects.
The retina is composed of several layers, each with distinct, unique characteristics. The primary layer of interest for this project was the outer nuclear layer (ONL). This area contains the nuclei of the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells of the eye (the cone and rod cells), which enable humans to see.
The overarching goal of this project is to create a comprehensive understanding of the visual system from cones to cortex in a healthy human. The Morgan and Aguirre labs have acquired a large dataset of structural and functional measurements of the visual system. The goal of my summer project was to analyze OCT images within this dataset and specifically to quantify the ONL thickness within the OCT images.
My primary responsibility was to use ITK-SNAP—a software specifically designed for OCT analysis—to segment out the ONL in preparation for volume and density measurements. From these segmentations, we then measure the thickness and volume of the ONL for each subject within the database. These measurements will enable a normative measure across the population, and also allow us to examine individual variability within the population. Future work will also correlate the ONL volume to the cone density measurements at the same retinal locations.
Despite the remote nature, not only did I become fluent in software programs including Adobe Photoshop and ITK-SNAP, but I was also introduced to an entirely new field of vision research and imaging technology such as adaptive optics and OCT. By the remote aspect of this program, I additionally gained invaluable experience of navigating research with a sense of independence. It became my responsibility to schedule and plan meetings and be proactive in seeking guidance when needed. This mentorship program has equipped me with several important skills, both research related and not, that I will now be able to integrate moving forward into my research career and educational experience as a whole.