Intense X-Rays Advance Corneal Research

*March 2009

A team at Cardiff University in the UK is using synchrotron radiation to advance the understanding and treatment of eye diseases like keratoconus.

Working at Diamond – the UK’s national synchrotron – the Prof. Keith Meek and his team are employing X-ray scattering techniques to perform structural analysis of the cornea. They have mapped the orientation and thickness of collagen in corneal samples with and without keratoconus. Since the cornea is usually a precise curve, light reaching a keratoconus cornea is not refracted properly and therefore the patient’s vision is drastically affected. They found that the cornea has a highly specific fibrous collagen arrangement that is lost in keratoconus. These changes are believed to be pivotal in the progression of the disease and to the development of the keratoconus cornea’s characteristic cone shape.

Prof. Meek explains, “The significance of this research is that with a greater understanding of the structure of the cornea at the molecular level, we are able to suggest methods for improving corneal surgery by increasing our understanding of how physical disruption of the cornea’s structure can lead to refractive changes.”

“In theory it would take months to scan a single cornea using a conventional laboratory source, but due to the high intensity of Diamond’s X-rays, a cornea can be scanned in just a few hours,” said Prof. Meek. “In addition, because synchrotron X-rays can be focused to a tiny spot, we can generate more detailed maps of corneal structure than ever before.

xray-chart
X-ray scattering can be used to show the direction of collagen at fine intervals across normal and keratoconus corneas (shown here as colored plots). The superimposed black lines illustrate how the normal arrangement of collagen in the horizontal and vertical directions might be disturbed in keratoconus corneas by a slippage of collagen. Such a mechanism would explain the stromal thinning and weakening that occurs in keratoconus.

He adds, “Another aspect to the research is that, due to the fact that in many parts of the world the demand for donor corneas far outstrips the supply, the need to develop an artificial cornea has increased.

This means that, within a few years, the work will be at a stage where it can feed into the development of artificial biological corneal constructs that mimic the remarkable natural properties of this extraordinary tissue”.

Diamond Light Source : For more information, visit Diamond’s website.

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities.  Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. For more information, visit the University website.

A team at Cardiff University is studying the treatment of eye diseases like keratoconus using synchrotron radiation.