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Victorian Lions fund vital research to save sight

news_keratoconus _lionsVictorian Lions are funding promising new research at CERA to enable the early diagnosis and treatment of the eye disease keratoconus.

Keratoconus is a common condition affecting the cornea (the front covering of the eye), often developed in childhood. It is characterized by progressive corneal thinning resulting in an abnormally steep cornea and considerable vision loss.

In the early stages of keratoconus, vision can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses, but as the disease progresses, corneal transplantation is often required. A significant number of keratoconus patients require multiple transplants. Almost half of all eye transplants performed in Victoria are due to keratoconus.

According to Associate Professor Paul Baird, Principal Investigator Ocular Genetics, recent advances in imaging techniques, particularly using a Pentacam corneal imaging system, now allows the detection of corneal changes in individuals who would not normally be diagnosed until their disease is more advanced.

“The key focus of the new study funded by the Victorian Lions will be to identify any characteristics or risk factors that might exist in parents and may impact on the age of onset and severity of keratoconus in their children,” he said.

“We will also identify the presence of any corneal changes in siblings of children to allow us to better assess whether these children are at risk of keratoconus.”

“If this study is successful and the Pentacam becomes the tool for early keratoconus diagnosis, corneal collagen cross-linking (CXL) could become the standard treatment option at the early stage of keratoconus within a couple of years.

In March this year, CERA reported conclusive evidence that corneal collagen cross-linking (CXL) slows or even halts the progression of keratoconus. CXL is a relatively simple process involving the application of riboflavin (vitamin B2) solution to the cornea. The riboflavin is then activated with ultra-violet light.

Associate Professor Baird said that early diagnosis and treatment with CXL will allow the majority of keratoconus patients to be managed with glasses or contact lenses throughout their lives, and avoid the need for corneal transplantation.

“It is a promising time for families with keratoconus – only a few years ago there were limited treatment options and the prospect of multiple surgeries and transplantations,” he said.

“Now there is hope and the real promise of a better, healthier future. We can’t thank Victorian Lions enough for their generous support.”