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The human eye – “the window to the soul” – is captivating. It is precise and has a complex anatomy. Being a bridge between our senses and the world it can tell a lot of things. The eye is essential to medical advancements and has long been a subject of fascination for scientists.

Diego Guenot and his team share an awe for the eye and have started to unveil medical secrets of this small but fascinating part of the body. The eye has a lot to unveil.

The Mantis Photonics team is fine-tuning a hyperspectral camera that photographs the retina at the back of the eye. It provides multiple images in a wide spectrum of colors. With these images, it is possible for an ophthalmologist, or an eye doctor – or an AI – to reveal the future. Or, that is, what diseases a patient may be about to develop and how to treat it before any harm is done.

Mantis’ journey started in early 2021 when Diego Guenot was a postdoc in physics at Lund Faculty of Engineering.

–  I did my PhD with Anne Huillier (2023 years Nobel laureate in physics) on very short laser pulses. It is basic research, looking at how electrons move around atoms and molecules; what their reactions are, and how they bring atoms along. The purpose is to understand chemical reactions. You can learn a lot from studying how long it takes for an electron to get away from the atom using a laser pulse…

Diego studied laser pulses mainly because it was fun. However, he eventually started to form a groundbreaking idea that would lead to the technology behind the hyperspectral camera that Mantis’ team is developing today.

–  My idea was to make a very short pulse, he says. To do that you have to mix several colors. Also, you must synchronize them. I deliberately wanted to steer them to make them ‘focus’ and overlap. This was my focus during the postdoc.

It was not until later that the commercial idea based on this research started to take shape:

–  A side project of mine was to use a hyperspectral camera for drones. As I browsed LinkedIn, I happened to notice that Denis, a friend of mine worked with drones. I got in touch to get some tips, says Diego. I explained my thinking: I had built a prototype that worked. The camera could produce an image where you could see how the different colors overlap. Denis got intrigued: ‘It sounds super exciting, can I join the project’? So, I brought him along and here we are!

Through LU Innovation and LU holding, Diego could file a patent. He kept working with the prototypes:

–  I started to investigate medical applications for hyperspectral imaging. Eventually, we realized that ophthalmology would be the best application for our technology.

The goal became to develop a smooth scanning tool that would make eye scans, as part of health checks, efficient, painless, and quick. For ophthalmologists, and perhaps also later, opticians.

–  99 % of all hyperspectral cameras need to scan. This is a challenge because the eye is in constant motion – it moves every 50 milliseconds. You can scan, but it is complicated. Our camera is a snapshot camera and by using it we can freeze all the eye motions.

We stumbled upon some articles saying you could discover Alzheimer’s by looking into the eye. The proteins, and biomarkers of Alzheimer’s are deposited in the retina, the back of your eye. You can see them, even if they are very small because they change a tiny bit the color of the retina.

LU Holding appreciated our thinking and we got accepted. Continuing to build his prototype Diego struggled to get it the way he wanted it.

–  It was hard to build a prototype that could record an image of the retina. But then we got lucky. LU innovation put us in touch with Rafi Sheik and Malin Malmsjö doing Ophthalmology and hyperspectral imaging. They had an old camera that we could use.

Diego worked on it for several weeks; installing software, fixing electronics, and testing. Then finally:

–  It worked! This was like my moon landing! I tried the camera on my own eye and discovered that it really works, Diego says.

The camera makes an image of the retina. A spectral flash image from the eye is decomposed by the camera. What is unique is that the camera records all colors, in fact, as many as 36. Waves from all the different colors, allow the user to draw conclusions about health from the images. Selecting different positions, you can see how intense some colors are.

This says a lot:

–  Slightly different colors between the vein and the archery indicate, for example, reveals the level of the oxidation from the blood. This is an indicator of many diseases … glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy For example, if there is a problem with the tissue, it absorbs less oxygen, and the arteries comes back with more oxygen, and you see less of a difference between vein and arteries.

The reason the eye is so revealing is that it is a part of the brain and it is the only place in the body where you can see veins so clearly.

–  We hope to do cardiology as well. There is so much that can be read from the back of the eye.

The camera is a remarkable innovation in the sense that it allows doctors to discover common diseases that lure in the future way before they develop. Many can be prevented, with small means.

–  People often seek help too late. However, if people are diagnosed earlier, many illnesses can be avoided. Sometimes simple changes in lifestyles help. If you face getting age related macular degeneration: you can start using sunglasses, take vitamin supplements, and stop smoking. Also changing your lifestyle can reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as 40 %.

Currently, the team’s camera is being tested by ophthalmologists and neurologists.

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