Measuring levels of vitamin C in eye can determine extent of ocular injury, study reveals

By @iamkarlatecson on
Eye exam
A patient undergoes an eye exam at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) health clinic in Inglewood, California August 11, 2009. Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

While vitamin D is commonly associated with eyesight, a new study suggests that it is the amount of vitamin C found in eye fluids which can be used to identify whether an ocular injury is mild or severe. 

Vitamin C in the eye can now be measured quickly and inexpensively, thanks to a portable sensor that is being developed by a U.S. engineer and an ophthalmologist. The handy gadget, called OcuCheck, is detailed in the new research in Scientific Reports. 

The device could be helpful especially in rural areas that lack ophthalmology specialists, as well as in accident sites, the researchers said.

Eye injury is considered the leading cause of blindness worldwide. In Australia, majority of eye injuries reportedly occur in the workplace, accounting for 60 percent. Despite this, the workplace accounted for the lowest rate of hospitalisation for cases related to eye injury.

Currently, people who suffer from eye injuries rely on hospitals for assessment, which is often complicated, time-consuming and inaccurate, according to the new study’s authors from the University of Illinois.

“The sensor takes advantage of the fact that the ocular tear film – the viscous fluid that coats the eyeball – contains low levels of ascorbic acid, which is just vitamin C, while the interior of the eye contains much higher levels,” said University of Illinois bioengineering professor Dipanjan Pan, who is developing the sensor. 

He has partnered with Carle ophthalmologist Dr Leanne Labriola in designing OcuCheck. “The new device will change the standard of care for evaluating eye traumas,” Labriola noted.

The device uses a one-of-a-kind approach, according to the team, as it works by showing an ascorbic acid leak in high concentration when there’s a severe eye trauma. 

OcuCheck makes use of “graphene platelets that are layered one nanometre thick on filter paper. Upper layers include a unique polymer that interacts with the graphene; gold electrodes; and ascorbate oxidase, an enzyme that binds to ascorbic acid,” the authors described in their study.

The team tested the sensor using clinical samples from 16 patients undergoing eye surgery. They found that OcuCheck can accurately and specifically detect a range of ascorbic acid concentrations. However, Pan noted that they haven’t tested the sensor on samples from trauma patients.

The team is now working on making their device portable and easy to use, with the help of an industrial design professor in Illinois who is building a housing for the sensor. Pan and Labriola have also founded a new company, InnSight Technology, to make the device available to the market.

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