A Medical Device Daily

The National Institutes of Health reported awarding a four-year grant of $1.48 million to Gary Conrad, a university distinguished professor at Kansas State University's (Manhattan, Kansas) Division of Biology.

The grant is from The National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health and is for the study of the cornea.

"The NIH renewal will make Conrad's grant the longest continuously funded R01 grant in the state of Kansas at 41 years," said Jim Guikema, K-State associate vice president for research.

Conrad's research on embryonic development of the eye has led to knowledge that could possibly improve LASIK surgery. He and his research associates have identified a difference in the connective tissue of normal corneas compared to those that have been cut during LASIK.

LASIK, which stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, uses a laser to reshape the cornea as an alternative to wearing glasses or contact lens.

During the procedure a thin-hinged flap is cut in the front of the cornea and peeled back out of the way to allow the laser to reshape the corneal connective tissue underneath the flap.

When the laser is finished the flap is pulled back to its original position. "It was once believed that the flap would re-adhere permanently," Conrad said. "However, the unique connective tissue of the cornea and a lack of blood vessels limit its ability to fully heal even years after the procedure. A trauma to the face, such as impact from an automobile air bag provides enough force to dislodge the flap, reopening the cornea, infecting it with dirt and debris, and causing instant loss of visual acuity."

After LASIK, differences in the structure of sugar molecules made the cornea prevent cut nerve ends from regenerating, as well as preventing the flap from re-adhering.

However, the NIH grant renewal will enable the lab group to test a possible solution that would strengthen the stromal flap and allow it to permanently bind back to the cornea after LASIK, Conrad said.

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