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30 November 2023

Photonic Technologies Introduce New Ways to Diagnose Menopause and Glaucoma

Optica Foundation Challenge provides grants for work on early-stage intervention in menopause and glaucoma

  • Optica Foundation funds research to detect menopause and glaucoma more cost-effectively and efficiently
  • Chip-integrated light sensor to uncover hormonal biomarkers of menopause
  • Light-based system to detect undetectable glaucoma

WASHINGTON – The Optica Foundation today released more detailed information on new women’s health and vision research funded by the 2023 Optica Foundation Challenge. Researchers Samantha Grist, The University of British Columbia, Canada, and Fernando Zvietcovich, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Peru, have proposed two separate light-based techniques to solve for challenges in diagnosing health-related concerns, specifically menopause and glaucoma.

“As healthcare diagnostics advance, new opportunities for non-invasive, light-based techniques continue to emerge,” said Alan Willner, chair of the Challenge Selection Committee. “Excitedly, both Dr. Grist and Dr. Zvietcovich are exploring novel, innovative ways of using light to address issues found in current modalities—precisely the kind of exemplary work the Optica Foundation Challenge strives to address.”

Each research effort is supported by a USD$100,000 grant from the Optica Foundation, and Grist and Zvietcovich will use these funds to advance their research in the following ways:

Light-based sensor to identify menopause markers 
Samantha Grist, The University of British Columbia, Canada 
Silicon photonic biosensors for low-cost, portable, data-rich measurements of hormone biomarkers relevant to women’s health and the menopausal transition
Research Executive Summary

According to the World Health Organization, the average onset of menopause is between 45 and 55, and the World Bank reports women aged 50 to 54 now make up 6% of the total female population. Yet, despite the potential prevalence of menopause and its precursor perimenopause, physicians have limited tools and data to understand and predict symptoms or improve treatment.

That’s partly because today’s diagnostics include centralized lab-based assays that are expensive, slow, and inconvenient for daily testing, and point-of-need solutions do not provide the required quantitative accurate data from the multiple hormone markers needed to understand symptoms, improve treatment, and predict the onset of menopause. However, new work from Samantha Grist, The University of British Columbia, Canada, offers promise in the form of a silicon photonic integrated circuit (PIC) with biosensors.

Grist’s silicon PIC approach introduces the potential for quantitative, accurate, data-rich measurements of hormones, with tens to hundreds of biosensors integrated on a single millimeter-scale chip in the future. However, PIC-based biosensor analysis has required costly and bulky systems that limit their applicability in clinical environments—until now. Grist and her team have invented a new sensor architecture that addresses this challenge by applying a tiny, inexpensive laser for readout.

“Our work focuses on validating a portable, low-cost technology for decentralized, multiplexed monitoring of hormone markers in urine,” explained Grist. “We will build a tool that has the potential to drastically improve health and quality of life during the menopausal transition.”

Grist points to a two-fold approach to advance this concept: 1. A rigorous exploration of the new sensor architecture to quantify and optimize its performance; and 2. Assay design to appropriately evaluate hormone biomarkers. In six months, Grist hopes to be at the stage to start actively measuring hormone markers and evaluating the full scope of the application with an interdisciplinary team.

“I didn’t realize there was such a profound lack of diagnostic and treatment options for perimenopause and menopause until I met with Herstasis Health, a Canadian nonprofit dedicated to addressing this issue,” explained Grist. “Now, I’m really motivated to help people experiencing menopause diagnose and predict its stages and address its symptoms. This grant gives me the chance to do meaningful work and demonstrate how photonic innovation can address unmet needs.”

Detecting undetectable glaucoma 
Fernando Zvietcovich, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Peru;
Development of a clinical multi-excitation optical coherence elastography system to interrogate corneal biomechanics for the detection and staging of normotensive glaucoma
Research Executive Summary

Globally, glaucoma is a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness, with 7.7 million people impacted by the disease. Unfortunately, more than half of cases are undiagnosed.

In part, that can be attributable to current diagnostic standards, which require the monitoring of corneal pressure. The issue is that in normotensive glaucoma (NTG), corneal pressure levels remain in the normal range, making early detection and intervention difficult, if not impossible. In addition, corneas with softer biomechanics and high astigmatism may also lead to inaccurate pressure readings.

To address these concerns, Fernando Zvietcovich, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Peru, has proposed the development of a clinical multi-excitation optical coherence elastography system. This system will enable high-resolution structural images of the eye through optical coherence tomography (OCT). At the same time, the system will leverage air and ultrasonic pulses to excite the mechanical waves in the cornea, providing biomechanical information of the eye to help obtain corrected and adjusted intraocular pressure values, thus enabling the detection of NTG.

“This field of applying OCT with other imaging modalities and excitation sources is really just emerging,” Zvietcovich shared. “We’re measuring properties in the human eye and changes in biomechanics that were not possible to measure before, and we have entered a new dimension with the information that we can now see. We’re in the early stages of new ways to monitor and propose treatments for the eye.”

As a first step, Zvietcovich plans to finalize designs and build a prototype optical coherence elastography system. Once it’s created, he will initiate modeling tests to refine the approach, and ultimately, will take the system into clinical settings. In six months, Zvietcovich expects to have the first expression of the prototype, and ultimately, he plans to hold a preliminary patient study with 20 control patients, 20 patients with NTG, and 20 patients with high-tension glaucoma to generate biomechanically inspired biomarkers of the cornea.

“In the short term, the main benefit of this work will be that it enables researchers to apply these technologies and clinical studies will follow. In the long term, I can see this device in clinics, helping diagnose NTG and other eye diseases more efficiently and cost-effectively. Ultimately, I hope that patients will avoid vision loss because of this research,” Zvietcovich summed up.

Both research initiatives were made possible by grants awarded through the Optica Foundation Challenge. This challenge was designed to engage early-career professionals in out-of-the-box thinking and provide seed money to investigate hypotheses in the areas of environment, health and information. Each of the recipients received USD$100,000 to explore their ideas and take steps toward addressing critical global issues. Recipients have begun work on these projects and expect to report initial results later in 2024. For more information, visit



Optica Foundation

Established in 2002, the Optica Foundation carries out charitable activities in support of the society’s student and early career members. We cultivate the next generation of leaders and innovators as they navigate advanced degree programs and become active members of research, engineering and business communities worldwide. The foundation also works to secure the endowments for Optica’s awards and honors programs. The foundation is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. For more information, visit

About Optica

Optica, Advancing Optics and Photonics Worldwide, is the society dedicated to promoting the generation, application, archiving and dissemination of knowledge in the field. Founded in 1916, it is the leading organization for scientists, engineers, business professionals, students and others interested in the science of light. Optica's renowned publications, meetings, online resources and in-person activities fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate scientific, technical and educational achievement. Discover more at:

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