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Ocular therapeutics

Increasing understanding of the eye at a molecular level to drive the development of novel therapeutic interventions and treatments that can delay, prevent or cure blinding diseases.

Our highly multi-disciplinary group, which spans the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, comprises  expertise in genetics, molecular and cellular biology, structural biophysics, ophthalmology and optometry, rational drug design and ocular drug delivery.

The research of the group focuses on the development of novel eye care treatments and products that lead to improved ocular health through an increased understanding of the causes of ocular disorders and improved methods of drug delivery.

We are investigating a range of novel therapies and ocular drug delivery platforms.

Although a seemingly accessible target, many ocular conditions remain difficult to treat due to lack of full understanding of the mechanism by which they develop and progress, the impenetrability of the corneal epithelium, and an over-reliance on eye drop formulations which suffer from high drug losses due to nasolachrymal drainage.

Examples of our research include:

  • New treatments for glaucoma
  • Design of novel molecules to treat blinding diseases
  • Mitochondrial optic neuropathies
  • Near-infrared red light in the treatment of mitochondrial eye disease

Development of an artificial corneal replacement

To address the issue of a world-wide shortage of corneal donor tissue for the treatment of corneal disorders and pathologies, we joined forces with Linkoping University, the University of Montreal and LV Prasad Eye Institute, in an international collaborative effort to develop a suitable artificial corneal replacement.

We have been instrumental in characterising the structural and biophysical properties of newly developed synthetic implants to improve their quality, and have used serial block face scanning electron microscopy to demonstrate how their implantation can lead to the generation of a transparent neo-cornea, which has a collagen arrangement and proteoglycan organisation almost indistinguishable from that of a healthy cornea (Fig. 4).

Generation of in vitro corneal cell layers for ocular drug testing

We collaborate closely with clinician-scientists in Japan to generate in vitro corneal cell layers derived from human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. The major current focus is on the corneal epithelium but we plan to diversify into other ocular cell layers. Such technology has wide applicability for testing ocular medications.

Development of enhanced ocular therapeutic delivery platforms


We are investigating a range of ocular drug delivery platforms and have a growing body of in vitro data that, in particular relates to the delivery of antimicrobials to treat corneal keratitis. Some of the delivery platforms include:

  • Rational liquid (eyedrop) formulations based on an understanding of thermodynamics and solution chemistry and the use of solubility enhancers eg cyclodextrins, crown ethers, ion-pairing agents, to achieve enhanced tissue penetration.
  • Nanoparticle and mucoadhesive spray or thermosensitive (sol-gel) formulations that facilitate ocular drug penetration and in the case of the latter, can be adapted for under eyelid drug delivery, or orbit implants (particularly relevant when targeting the back of the eye).
  • Drug loaded thin films that can be placed over the eye or under the eyelid, allowing the sustained release of drug into the tear film and eye. They can be prepared so that they are either removable after use or dissolvable.
  • Drug loaded contact lenses which, when placed on the eye forms a high concentration gradient and promotes drug diffusion from the lens to the cornea. Soft silicone hydrogel lenses can be saturated with drug solution, or lenses can be synthesised with the drug incorporated into the polymer mixture.
  • Microneedle-facilitated enhanced ocular drug delivery is a minimally-invasive technique for enhancing drug delivery to the cornea. When applied to the cornea surface, microchannels are created in the epithelium which allow greater amounts of drug to penetrate. The channels heal within two weeks.
  • Cryoprobe. We have developed a cryoprobe for transcorneal freezing to remove diseased corneal endothelial cells in patients with Fuchs’ Endothelial Corneal Dystrophy to allow more peripheral healthy cells to repopulate the cornea and recover endothelial function and corneal clarity.

Cross-linking therapies for stiffening the outer tunic of the eye

In recent years, riboflavin/UVA cross-linking has become increasingly common in clinical practice as a means of artificially stiffening pathologically weakened corneas. We are investigating how the treatment works at the molecular level8 and have examined in vitro, the efficacy of a number treatment modifications aimed at improving patient comfort.

Discovering the ophthalmic potential of pomegranate rind extract


Since ancient times, the pomegranate fruit has been linked to activity against infection. Our research has demonstrated that the co-administration of pomegranate rind extract with zinc ions, leads to potent broad-spectrum microbicidal activity. This has been established against Herpes simplex virus and a panel of bacteria (unpublished).

We have also shown that extracts of pomegranate elicit anti-inflammatory activity in local (COX2 –mediated) inflammation. Research is currently underway to develop a new, pomegranate-based treatment for conjunctivitis, blepharitis, keratitis and associated ocular inflammation.

Specialist equipment and facilities

The School of Optometry is well equipped with a new serial block face scanning electron microscope with Gatan 3View (one of only nine such machines in the UK), plus two JEOL transmission electron microscopes, a JEM-2100 LaB6 200 kV analytical machine with cryotomography capabilities and an 80 kV JEOL 1010 with a Gatan Orius SC1000 11-megapixel CCD camera system, also equipped for nonautomated tomography. For specimen preparation we have a Reichart Ultracut E ultramicrotome and a Leica EMUC6 cryo-ultramicrotome, as well as high-pressure cryopreservation and freeze-substitution equipment (Leica EMPACT2; Leica AFS1 and AFS2) as an alternative to the chemical processing of tissue. Within the Vision Science Bioimaging Labs (VSBL) we have facilities for light microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy (Leica SP2 AOBS instrument), fluorescence labelling, tissue culture and connective tissue biochemical analysis.

Lead researcher

Professor Andrew Quantock

Professor Andrew Quantock

Professor

Email
quantockaj@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 5064

Academic staff

Dr Craig Boote

Dr Craig Boote

Reader, Deputy Director of Postgraduate Research

Email
bootec@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 29208 70586
Professor Andrea Brancale

Professor Andrea Brancale

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry

Email
brancalea@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4485
Dr Charles Heard

Dr Charles Heard

Reader

Email
heard@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 5819
Dr Elena Koudouna

Dr Elena Koudouna

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow

Email
koudounae@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 20870205
Dr Philip Lewis

Dr Philip Lewis

Research Fellow and Electron Microscopy Specialist

Email
lewispn@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 208 70459
Professor Keith Meek

Professor Keith Meek

Head of Biophysics Research Group, Senior Mentor

Email
meekkm@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6317
Professor James E Morgan

Professor James E Morgan

Professor in Ophthalmology, Consultant Ophthalmologist, School of Optometry & Vision Sciences

Email
morganje3@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2074 3222
Dr Sian Morgan

Dr Sian Morgan

Research Associate

Email
morgans51@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6356
Dr Malgorzata Rozanowska

Dr Malgorzata Rozanowska

Senior Lecturer

Email
rozanowskamb@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 29208 75057
Professor Marcela Votruba

Professor Marcela Votruba

Professor and Hon. Consultant in Ophthalmology

Email
votrubam@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44(0)29 2087 0117
Professor David Whitaker

Professor David Whitaker

Head of School, School of Healthcare Sciences

Email
whitakerd@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 208 74703

Our research delivers advances in knowledge to facilitate detection, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of vision disorders to improve quality of life.