Focused On: Corneal Research

Group Leader: Clinical Professor Stephanie Watson

Your cornea is the clear tissue over the front of the eye. It serves as a protective window for light and images to enter the pupil and focus on the retina. Corneal disease or damage can mean that this ‘window’ is not clear and this significantly impacts vision. Diseases affecting the surface of the eye can lead to blindness and substantial pain for the person affected.

For many years, there was little that could be done by doctors to treat uncomfortable corneal conditions, usually caused by an eye trauma, genetic condition or immunological disorder. However, there has recently been substantial progress in understanding how to replenish damaged cells and tissue in the front of the eye.

Stem cell solutions lead the way, and are a major research focus for Save Sight Institute, although a number of other techniques are also under investigation. There are currently three major approaches to stem cell transfers:

-From the fellow eye;
-From a living relative;
-From a deceased donor

Individual circumstances will dictate which procedure is likely to have the best outcome, and stem cell transfer is not suitable for all corneal patients.

Researchers at Save Sight Institute have also had a major breakthrough in the treatment of dry eye and blepharitis, a common corneal condition which affects around 20% of people.
Described as being as debilitating as angina, the elderly are particularly susceptible to dry eye with blepharitis (subsequent inflammation of the eyelids, with increased abnormal cholesterol production).

Professor Stephanie Watson and Dr Ken Ooi have completed clinical trials of a new eye drop, the first in the world which will treat all of the underlying aspects of blepharitis. Currently under patent application, we hope that this new treatment will be available soon to improve the comfort and vision of people suffering from dry eye.

Also underway at Save Sight Institute is a national survey of patients with cicatrizing conjunctivitis, a severe surface disease.
The information obtained from this study will assist in optimising the long-term management of these patients.