The main objective of this research is the development of both natural and novel polymeric biomaterials for the treatment of corneal blindness. The project will develop a number of biomedical applications which include an understanding and manipulation of the interactions of these materials with their surrounding cells and proteins, and expand the potential for novel drug delivery techniques. Current research at NIBEC has developed a number of chemical and biological modification techniques that have been used to improve the interactions between biomaterials and their surrounding biological environment. This research is focused on materials for ophthalmic applications and in particular for the treatment of corneal blindness. The research is highly multidisciplinary and will involve significant collaboration with other scientists.
Corneal blindness, often caused by significant ocular trauma and corneal ulceration may be responsible for 1.5 - 2.0 million new cases of monocular blindness every year. Current treatment involves replacing the diseased cornea with one from a human donor and approximately 40,000 of these corneal transplants are performed in the US each year. However, the number of patients on waiting lists continues to grow and donor tissue availability, safety or patient unsuitability may prevent successful treatment.
This research project aims to develop a tissue engineered system with the ultimate goal of developing an implantable corneal model which can be used either as an artificial cornea or which can be used as a simple corneal onlay to deliver corneal cells and tissues. The student will be required to develop and generate thin film biomaterials using a combination of synthetic polymers and collagen as scaffold materials with the application of appropriate modifications to promote interactions with the corneal cells. Physical and chemical characterisation of biomaterials using advanced “in-house” analytical techniques will be performed before human corneal cell culture and molecular biology techniques will be used to investigate the interaction of the biomaterials with the cells. This study will contribute to a better understanding of the in vitro characteristics of biomaterials as a substratum for the growth of corneal cells, and elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which substrate interactions support cell monolayer formation and maintain the differentiated properties of the cells.
First Supervisor: Burke, G Dr
Second Supervisor: Meenan, BJ Prof
Collaboration: This project does not involve collaboration with another establishment
The cornea is the protective window of the eye, providing 75% of the eye's refractive power and transmitting 90% of blue and 98% of red light. Currently, more than 10 million individuals worldwide experience bilateral corneal blindness. Corneal disease is a major cause of blindness, second only to cataracts and corneal transplants are currently the only treatment for restoring vision.
Total corneal transplantation has a 90% success rate in patients with good prognoses (low graft vascularization and inflammation), but almost no chance of success in patients with alkali burns or recurrent graft failures. The shortcomings of corneal transplantation include significant immune rejection rates, possibility of infections, and donor shortages.
A tissue-engineered corneal replacement could provide significant benefits as an alternative to donated corneas. This project addresses the current need for the development of biomaterials for ophthalmic applications.