Human World

Keith Meek on the workings of the eye’s cornea

Astigmatism, which can cause blurry vision, is a problem for millions. The condition stems from a misshapen cornea – the clear covering of the eye that focuses incoming light. EarthSky spoke to Keith Meek of Cardiff University in the U.K., who leads research on the cornea.

Keith Meek: For many years, people thought that the cornea was essentially a uniform piece of tissue with fibers running in different directions throughout it.

Meek explained that these fibers – made of collagen – are actually arranged in very distinct patterns. He discovered this by shining X-rays from a particle accelerator through cornea specimens. He says this information could make astigmatism surgery more predictable.

Keith Meek: In the next five years or so, now that we’ve built up a full three-dimensional map of how the collagen is going in all the different parts of the cornea, all of that information can be fed into a computer model of the cornea. If you have a good computer model, then you can predict precisely what shape the tissue is going to end up.

Meek hopes this modeling can be applied to corrective vision surgery like Lasik, and also to cornea transplants.

Keith Meek: The first one that I would like to be tried out in a full clinical trial is that donor corneas are oriented the correct way as they came out of the person who donated them into the recipient. I believe that might affect the amount of astigmatism that you would get following surgery.

Meek added that in ten years time or more, it might even be possible to make a near-perfect artificial cornea.

Keith Meek: If you want to make an artificial cornea out of collagen, which is the same material that the cornea is made out of, you want to try and mimic as closely as possible what’s going on in the normal human cornea. There are various attempts being made all over the world now to produce collagenous belts, rather like the layers that are in the cornea now, that have preferred directions. So by us telling the people who are doing these sorts of experiments which directions they need to make their belts go in in a particular part of the cornea, the hope is that eventually we’d be able to reconstruct an artificial cornea that has precisely the same shape and mechanical properties as a normal human cornea.

Our thanks to Keith Meek.
Keith Meek heads the Biophysics Research Group at the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University in the U.K. Dr. Meek seeks to understand what governs the shape and transparency of the cornea. He carries out his research using the complementary techniques of X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy together with a range of biochemical methods and tools, including the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, a particle accelerator located in South Oxfordshire, U.K.

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December 14, 2009
Human World

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