Zhou to pursue novel imaging method with Stein Innovation Award from Research to Prevent Blindness

With this funding, Zhou and his team plan to develop an ultrahigh-speed parallel imaging optical coherence tomography (OCT) system for motion-free imaging in children

Beth Miller 
Chao Zhou

Chao Zhou, a Washington University in St. Louis engineer who develops novel optical imaging technologies for biomedical applications, has been awarded a Stein Innovation Award from Research to Prevent Blindness to pursue development of novel imaging methods for diagnostic uses. 

The three-year, $300,000 award provides flexible funds to scientists engaged in research working to understand the visual system and the diseases that compromise its function, focusing on new technologies and cutting-edge research. Zhou, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, is one of 39 researchers who have received the award since it was established in 2014.

With this funding, Zhou and his team plan to develop an ultrahigh-speed parallel imaging optical coherence tomography (OCT) system for motion-free imaging in children. They plan to implement this state-of-the-art technology in a compact, hand-held format to achieve 1.6 million A-scans per second imaging speed using 16 parallel imaging channels. This is more than 50 times faster than the commercial hand-held OCT system used for pediatric imaging and will allow acquisition of a high-definition wide-field 3D retinal OCT scan in a fraction of a second. 

Zhou will collaborate with pediatric ophthalmologists Margaret Reynolds, MD, and Andrew Lee, MD, both in the John F. Hardesty, MD, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine, to test the feasibility of the hand-held space-division multiplexing (SDM)-OCT prototype in pediatric patients and compare its performance with commercial OCT devices. Their planned outcome is a novel and clinically accessible technique to obtain high-quality motion-free images in young children that will assist with diagnosis and treatment of pediatric retinal and optic nerve conditions.

Zhou invented the space-division multiplexing OCT technology (SDM-OCT), which enables parallel OCT imaging from multiple sample locations simultaneously. Multiple US and international patents have been granted or are being examined, for these technological advances. His group has successfully developed several generations of SDM-OCT prototypes, including the latest ophthalmic SDM-OCT system, which can acquire wide-field 3D OCT images of adult human retina in less than 1 second.

Zhou received the National Innovation Award from TechConnect World Innovation Conference and National Innovation Summit in 2017 in recognition of his inventions. He has multiple grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other federal and private sources.  He is an Editorial Board member for Communications Biology, and associate editor for IEEE Photonics Journal, and Journal of Biomedical Optics and Medical Physics.

Since it was founded in 1960, RPB has channeled more than $383 million into eye research. As a result, RPB has been identified with nearly every major breakthrough in vision research in that time. For information on RPB's grants program, listings of RPB institutional and individual grantees, and findings generated by these awards, go to www.rpbusa.org.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 140 full-time faculty, 1,387 undergraduate students, 1,448 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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