discoveries magazine

Prying Eyes

Schiøtz tonometer

Physicians fortunately no longer have to pry open eyelids and prod eyeballs with small metal tools to check for disease, as was the case with early optometric equipment like the Schiøtz tonometer. The device tested eye pressure by measuring the indentation made when pressed gently into a patient’s numbed cornea. Modern tonometers send puffs of air into the eye to detect diseases like glaucoma, which is characterized by excess eye pressure that can damage optic nerves and impair vision.

With an eye on better solutions to vision impairment, Cedars-Sinai investigators are testing the use of stem cells to reverse or slow down the onset of blindness due to degenerative eye diseases. In studies funded by a $5 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, injections of human-derived stem cells were shown to preserve vision in laboratory animals by slowing deterioration of the retina, the light-sensing area in the back of the eye. The team aims to start a clinical trial next year in humans afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease.

The Schiøtz tonometer in this photo is one of many artifacts maintained by the Cedars-Sinai Historical Conservancy.