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CERA’s award-winning students impress in India

image-tools (80)Two exceptional PhD students from CERA were awarded best paper in their respective categories at the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology conference in Hyderabad, India last week. The Congress brings together the 19 member nations of the APAO, an estimated 10,000 international delegates and over 800 world-renowned guest speakers.

Heather Connor’s paper described a new method of tracking fibres from the brain to the visual cortex.

“As a result of this new measure, I found that there was a significant difference between the volume of the white matter fibres in patients with advanced open angle glaucoma compared to normal patients,” said Heather.

Patients with advanced glaucoma had a smaller volume of fibres and this is thought to be due to gradual degeneration of the fibres following loss of vision.

“This work is significant as it demonstrates we need to take a holistic approach to the eye disease glaucoma and consider that it is not just the retina which is affected. This has implications for patients since early treatment can help reduce vision loss and thus prevent further changes.”

Karl Brown’s paper compared three different transplant surfaces – a new synthetic hydrogel film, a collagen film coated in hydrogel and a standard plastic tissue culture surface.

His results showed that the synthetic hydrogel film produced the same amount of cells after 28 days as is commonly found in a healthy eye. It is also able to be easily and safely implanted into the eye as it is flexible, very thin (able to be inserted through a 3mm slit) and non-toxic. The film is currently being trialled with sheep corneal endothelial cells as a model for human endothelial cells.

“In the future, we will implant the film with human cells and see if it can restore sight to an eye with damaged endothelium (inner layer of the corneal cells),” said Karl.

“If it can, then our idea could treat tens of patients from a single donor cornea or perhaps even allow us to grow a new corneal endothelium from the patient’s own cells. The operation used to implant the film will be the same as the operation surgeons now use to implant donor tissue.”

Heather Connor is a PhD student working with CERA’s Glaucoma Research Unit. Karl Brown is a PhD student in CERA’s Surgical Research Unit.