Background: The purpose of this article is to introduce the practicing ophthalmologist to the optical principles and images produced by a tandem scanning confocal microscope (recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for general clinical use). The tandem scanning confocal microscope allows real-time viewing of structures in the living cornea at the cellular level in four dimensions (x, y, z, and time). Methods: Nine patients (2 males, 7 females), ranging in age from 7 to 52 years, were examined. Images were recorded on super VHS videotape, digitized and processed on a computer workstation, and photographed for presentation. Results: Two-dimensional (x, y) 400 X 400-µm images (9-µm z-axis thickness) are presented for normal corneal structures and for the clinical conditions of herpetic keratitis, wound healing after myopic excimer ablation, Acanthamoeba infection, corneal dystrophies (granular, Reis-Buckler), contact lens abrasion, and the irido-corneal endothelial syndrome. Conclusion: Clinical confocal microscopy has the unique potential of providing noninvasive assessment of corneal injury and disease at the cellular level that is not available currently from other technologies.
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