The retinal thermofusion project is funded by the USA Department of Defence Congressionally Awarded Medical Research Programme Grant of US$1.5 million.
A technique conceived and developed by A/Prof Heriot, retinal thermofusion creates an instant fusing of the retina and underlying choroidal tissue during retinal detachment repair (similar to welding).
The initial experiments demonstrated effective bonding and were published in 2015.
As the Principal Investigator for this project, A/Prof Heriot assembled a highly skilled and innovative team of collaborators from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, University of Melbourne, including A/Prof Bang Bui, A/Prof Andrew Metha and Dr Zheng He as his research assistant.
The preliminary stages of the project were conducted at the Melbourne Neuroscience Institute, University of Melbourne. A new surgical device to optimise this retinal detachment repair method is being developed in collaboration with Ingeneus Pty Ltd led by the CEO, Richard Walmsley.
The project commenced in July 2017 by measuring the attachment strength of RTF compared with standard treatment methods. Since then, we have demonstrated that the method creates an instantaneous bond of the retina and underlying choroidal tissues that is more secure than traditional methods.
The technique is expected to improve the efficacy of retinal detachment repair by reducing surgical time and potential complications.
The US Department of Defence recognised the need for retinal detachments and penetrating injuries to be repaired without an intraocular gas bubble as gas bubbles inside the eye will expand in higher altitudes and cause complete loss of sight. This happens because gas expands when pressure is reduced – the opposite effect of the process that enables liquefied gas to be released to power barbecues or create bubbles in mineral water and champagne.
Realising the benefits
The major benefit of this technique will be much stronger bonds irrespective of the location of the tears and simplification of the surgical method.
This project aims to translate the research into clinical care to improve retinal
detachment surgery outcomes.