Engineering treatments to combat vision loss in India

Posted by Professor Rachel Williams on 18 September 2017

Vision loss in India

The loss of vision is very debilitating and we have heard startling statistics from our collaborators at the Aravind Eye Care System in South India reporting that 200 million people need eye care in India and less than 10% are treated; 12 million are blind and 80% of these are treatable. The Aravind Eye Care System's vision is to eliminate needless blindness by providing high quality, high volume and compassionate eye care for all.

Misshapen cornea

At the University of Liverpool, we are working with the Aravind Eye Care System through an EPSRC-funded Translational Alliance Platform grant to develop a novel treatment for keratoconus.

Keratoconus is a progressive condition, often affecting young and working age people, in which the cornea becomes misshapen significantly disrupting the refraction of light into the eye. One of the key features of keratoconus is a loss of corneal mechanical stability. Increasing the stiffness of the cornea can reduce the progression of this debilitating eye disease. Corneal collagen cross-linking focuses on stiffening the cornea in order to preserve corneal integrity due to strong bonds formed within the collagen. Using our understanding of the engineering principles that define the relationship between the structure and mechanical properties of materials we are working to develop a novel collagen cross-linking therapy.

Current treatment requires the application of a light sensitive solution to the eye followed by activation with UV light. This means the patient needs to attend a specialist centre for treatment and only patients with thicker cornea can be treated owing to toxicity of the UV light to sensitive cells at the back of the cornea. For the treatment to be really effective it also requires the removal of the outer layer of the cornea which leaves the patient with a very sore eye for several days.

Our new treatment does not require activation with UV light and we believe it could be administered by a simple eye drop which could be done in the community. Our data have demonstrated a lack of toxicity to corneal cells and, most importantly, it is effective without scraping off the corneal surface.

The value of collaboration

During the partnership there have been multiple visits between the Institutions in both directions. In addition one of their research scientists has spent two months in our labs in Liverpool and one of our Postdocs has spent two months in Madurai. The strength of the partnership that we have built is leading to other exciting collaborative projects.

Aurolab is a component part of the Aravind Eye Care System and is a non-profit organisation with a strong R&D ethos based on innovative product development to address societal needs and provide affordable healthcare worldwide. By working with them we aim to produce a high quality product that can deliver treatment directly to patients within the community.

We were very pleased to be invited to present our work on this at the ARVO-ASIA Translational Vision Summit in Brisbane in February 2017.


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of Rachel Williams
Name: Professor Rachel Williams
Job title: Professor of Eye and Vision Science
Organisation: University of Liverpool

I am a professor of ophthalmic bioengineering with over 20 years of experience in the design and development of advanced materials for medical applications. My expertise lies in the design and characterisation of the bulk and surface properties of materials and how to modify them to optimise the properties for a specific application. I lead cross-disciplinary research projects on tailoring the properties of materials to control cellular responses. I am leading research on strategies to develop innovative ways to modify materials and their surfaces to treat sight threatening conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, surface ocular disorders and retinal detachment.