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Structural biophysics

We are increasing our understanding of the eye at a molecular level to help drive the development of potential new treatments for diseases such as glaucoma and keratoconus.

We are investigating structure-function relationships in the cornea, sclera, crystalline lens and lamina cribrosa, from the molecular level upwards.

Our work pays particular attention to the the hierarchical structure of the cornea since this involves important intermolecular and interfibrillar interactions, which can lead to loss of vision.

We investigate both normal and pathological tissues, examples being:

  • corneal transparency
  • cataract formation
  • corneal refractive surgery
  • corneal development
  • corneal diseases such as keratoconus and glaucoma
  • new treatments such as corneal crosslinking, stem cell therapy and tissue engineering.

Many of the systems we study are fibrous in nature containing a degree of both crystallinity and disorder. The interplay between these states appears to be essential to tissue function and is a central part of our research strategy.

Research techniques

We are using and developing a number of techniques to understand the three-dimensional structures of ocular tissues, including:

  • synchrotron x-ray diffraction
  • laser scanning multiphoton microscopy
  • 3-D electron tomography
  • serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBF SEM).

SBF SEM provides serial images through blocks of tissue. These can be analysed and displayed in several different ways.

Fly-through of serial image sequence


En-face serial images of foetal development moving from the mid-stroma up to the epithelium.

Three-dimensional surface of the imaged volume

VIDEO: 7 day mouse

Mouse cornea, seven days after penetrating RHCIII MPC implant. Surgery has pulled some host stroma beneath the implant leading to an inflammatory response. There is no evidence of implant remodelling.

Selected segmented structures viewed in three-dimensional reconstruction

VIDEO: Minipig Exosomes

Mini pig cornea 12-months after collagen-like peptide implant, showing the regenerated, transparent stroma beneath epithelium. Note the presence of exosomes (gold) between epithelium and keratocytes.


We have strong and active collaborative research links with scientists in the UK, mainland Europe, Japan and the USA.


In 2013, we established the UK Cross-linking consortium. This is an international community of ophthalmologists, optometrists and vision scientists who strive to:

  • provide a forum for ophthalmologists and vision scientists to develop research collaborations and coordinated multi-centre studies
  • establish a code of best practice for corneal cross-linking in order to standardise the treatment and its measurement outcomes
  • provide increased credibility and influence in order to lobby for UK-wide NHS provision of corneal cross-linking for patients with keratoconus.

Theme lead

Professor Keith Meek

Professor Keith Meek

Head of Biophysics Research Group, Senior Mentor

+44 (0)29 2087 6317