9 November 2012
A major research grant awarded to scientists in the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences will further the development of new tools to understand the causes of vision loss.
Professor Keith Meek and colleagues within the Structural Biophysics Research Group have been awarded a £1.75 million grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC). The grant will support research into the structure of the cornea, revealing the reasons behind abnormalities which, when left untreated, can lead to loss of vision.
The cornea is the transparent window at the very front of the eye. To fulfil its role as the main focussing element of the eye it has to be transparent, strong and precisely shaped. All these elements are controlled by the collagen fibers that make up the cornea, and by the molecules of proteins and sugars which exist between them.
Professor Meek and his team will be using new 3-D biological imaging techniques and powerful x-ray measuring experiments to examine the ultrastructure of the cornea in great detail. This will allow them to explain what goes wrong in several abnormalities that lead to disease and loss of vision. The team will also explore new approaches to try and improve the outcome of laser refractive surgery.
Professor Meek said: "This is the third consecutive five-year award to our group from the MRC, which highlights the importance of this line of research, and will allow us to build substantially on previous discoveries in this critical area. There are many strands to our research, all of which could have a significant impact on public health and a lasting impact on global quality of life."
In recent years a worldwide shortage of donor corneal tissue has led to several research groups in different countries trying to develop a biological artificial cornea. Elements of this new research could also be used to support significant developments in this area.
Professor Meek added: "The knowledge that we will obtain by clarifying the exact relationship between the structure of the cornea and the function, will allow us to collaborate with international groups to drive their constructs more quickly towards a fully functioning artificial cornea. "
The award will also allow the group to purchase a new state-of-the-art electron microscope that allows the tissue structure of the eye to be explored in three dimensions at very high magnifications. No such instrument currently exists in Wales and there are very few within the UK.