March 21, 2008

School of Medicine researchers receive $2.4 million to study contact lenses-related corneal infections

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Contact lens wearers are often warned to properly clean their lenses to prevent infections that can lead to severe inflammation, intense pain, and sight impairment.

Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Case Medical Center, a partnership between Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals, have been awarded a $2.4 million grant over five years from the National Eye Institute (NEI) to study corneal infection (keratitis) brought on by disease-causing fungi that can be lurking on contact lenses, in the air, in the dirt, or even on common household surfaces.

They will set their sights on Fusarium solani, the ubiquitous fungus that achieved international notoriety in 2005 and 2006 after an outbreak of corneal infections related to a contact lens care solution in the United States.

The researchers will study the body's immune response to Fusarium and other pathogenic fungi, and will identify factors that fuel the infections.

Leading the study are Eric Pearlman, Ph.D., research director and research professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and Mahmoud Ghannoum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Medical Mycology in the Department of Dermatology. This award recognizes the complementary expertise of the two researchers. Pearlman is an expert in microbial infections and immune defense, while Ghannoum is expert in fungal pathogenesis.

"Fusarium solani was already well-known as an important cause of eye infections in warm, humid areas of the U.S., and in southern and southeastern Asia, where this fungus can be picked up from the digging of dirt in agricultural work," Pearlman said. "A couple of years ago, we saw it cause a lot of trouble in contact lens wearers because cleaning solutions weren't able to scrub it away. Once it got into people's eyes, it caused many problems and led to a recall of a cleaning solution."

Earlier this year, this research team published a study that described how fungal cells formed biofilms, highly resistant structures held together with a glue-like matrix material.

"Once they live in that type of state, the cells become resistant to lens solutions and immune to the body's own defense system," said Dr. Ghannoum.

The Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Case Medical Center—mainly through the Department of Ophthalmology and the Visual Sciences Research Center—receive more than $41 million in vision research grants from the NEI, one of the National Institutes of Health. The NEI conducts and supports research to help prevent and treat eye diseases and other disorders of vision.

For more information contact Jessica E. Studeny, 216.368.4692.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, March 21, 2008 11:05 AM | News Topics: Faculty, Grants, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Provost Initiatives, School of Medicine, news

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