The human retina is a most important tissue and plays a fundamental role for the vision. Diseases of the eye affect the normal retinal function which, if untreated, may lead to vision loss or ultimately to blindness. Thus, in vivo diagnostic tools that provide detailed information on the retinal status are required in order to improve diagnosis and treatment. In recent years, several new optical imaging methods of the human retina have been developed and now represent the key part in a standard ophthalmic examination process. One of these technologies is optical coherence tomography (OCT), which provides images of the retina noninvasively and with a high axial resolution. However, imperfections of the eye's optics cause aberrations of the wavefront of the imaging light, thus limiting the transverse resolution of such systems. Improvements in the resolution of retinal images are necessary to resolve individual cells (e.g. photoreceptors) which may provide new opportunities in retinal diagnostics and therapy control. Adaptive optics (AO), a technology known from astronomy, may be used to increase image resolution. Aberrations of the imaging light are measured and corrected, resulting in an increase of lateral resolution up to the diffraction limit. Within this thesis, AO was combined with a scanning laser ophthalmoscope (SLO) that enables high resolution imaging of the retina. Measurements on healthy subjects demonstrated the ability of the system to resolve foveal cones (the smallest cone photoreceptors within the retina) and even rod photoreceptors. However, the depth resolution of the system remained limited compared to OCT instruments.
Thus, in a second step, the instrument was extended to a combined AO-SLO/OCT system. The OCT system is based on transversal scanning (TS)-OCT which records en-face images of the retina and incorporates a high-speed axial eye tracking device. Together with transverse motion correction based on the AO-SLO images, the system greatly reduces eye motion artifacts in the recorded volume scans. The capability of the AO-SLO/OCT system was tested with measurements in healthy volunteers:
the instrument allowed the visualization of the 3D architecture of foveal cones and rods with virtually no motion artifacts. The first chapter of this thesis provides a short overview on the state of the art in optical imaging methods. In the next two chapters, the two publications that arose during this thesis are presented. The first publication describes the AO-SLO system and presents corresponding imaging results. The second publication contains the realization of the combined AO-SLO/OCT instrument together with first images obtained with the instrument. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the advantages and features as well as possible improvements of the instrument together with recommendations for further investigations.