Research to understand the role of nerve damage in keratoconus

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25 January 2019
Source: Fight for Sight

Fight for Sight has today announced funding for research to investigate the causes of keratoconus. The condition, which usually affects young people, results in progressive damage to the cornea – the window at the front of the eye – and has a profound impact on vision and quality of life.

Dr Mouhamed Al-Aqaba and his team of researchers at Nottingham University will be taking corneal samples from patients with keratoconus and using biological ‘markers’ to investigate the underlying nerve structures.

The aim of the research is to understand the role that nerves play in the progression of the condition with a view to developing new treatments. Genetic, biochemical and other factors have been implicated as causes but the underlying reasons remain poorly understood.

Keratoconus symptoms usually appear in late teens and progress into adulthood. Initially young people living with the condition wear corrective contact lenses to help manage symptoms. Ultimately corneal transplants are required in up to 60 percent of patients, with symptoms continuing to have impact in the long term.

Marcin Bugaj is a keratoconus patient. He said: “Keratoconus has had a huge impact on my sight and as a result I needed a corneal transplant to restore some of my vision. The more we know about this condition the easier it will be to develop new treatments to combat it, which is why this research is so important.”

Dr Neil Ebenezer said: “Keratoconus affects thousands of people across the country, which has a profound impact on their day to day life. Our research will help to find answers to the questions around this condition, and ultimately lead to treatments that could transform people’s lives.”

Dr Al-Aqaba said: “We’re building on previous research that shows the nerves have a role to play in this condition but exactly how and why still needs to be determined. Our research will help us to understand more about how this disease progresses and how we can tackle it.”

Keratoconus is a condition that affects the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye. The cornea becomes thinner and more cone-shaped over time, instead of having a rounder curve. The change of shape causes blurred and distorted vision in the early stages, whilst in the late stages there can be an increase in blurred and distorted vision, poor night vision, halos and ghosting around lights.

The number of people affected with keratoconus varies across studies and countries with between 1 in 375 and 1 in 1,750.

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