Prof Stephanie Watson, Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW

This study will investigate the cellular mechanisms for ultraviolet radiation damage to the cornea. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes common eye disorders, such as pterygium, and serious conditions including ocular surface squamous neoplasia (OSSN) and stem cell damage, but how this happens on a cellular level is poorly understood.

“The epithelium of the eye, along with the skin, is the main tissue exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation. Unlike the skin, diffuse light is a more important source of UVR exposure to the eyes than direct sunlight, and is more difficult to avoid using sunscreens and shade,” explained Prof Watson.

“Little is known of how normal levels of ultraviolet radiation contribute to keratoconus and other forms of corneal blindness,” she said.

Using a laboratory animal model the researchers will investigate cell division in the corneal epithelium cells and whether ultraviolet radiation exposure influences dell division.

“Corneal disease is a leading cause of irreversible blindness, with high costs to the patient and society,” said Prof Watson.

“Understanding the mechanisms that induce common conditions such as pterygia and possibly keratoconus, along with more severe conditions such as OSSN, will allow the development of new therapies to prevent damage and restore tissues, saving sight,” she said.