The development of new technology by researchers at the UAB Faculty of Optometry is set to revolutionize the assessment and treatment of dry eye disease (DED). Dry eye disease occurs when tears fail to provide adequate lubrication for the eyes, causing discomfort and potentially leading to serious consequences. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, approximately 20 million people in the United States are affected by this condition.
To address this issue, Yuqiang Bai, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, has received a $1.85 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study dry eye disease. The aim is to develop non-invasive evaluations for DED that can inform the development of new treatments. Bai and his colleague Jason Nichols, OD, Ph.D., have invented a groundbreaking technology that will aid their research.
“The discomfort created by dry eye disease causes substantial physical, financial, and psychological consequences,” says Bai. “The grant will allow us to use the technology that Dr. Nichols and I created to get a high-resolution view of the eye that provides information about the health of the tear film.”
In his research, Bai will focus on studying the tear film – the mechanism in the eye responsible for producing tears that keep it moist. Specifically, he will investigate whether thin regions within the tear film are associated with excessive loss of tears required for lubrication. By gaining a better understanding of these underlying causes and identifying signs and symptoms associated with DED development, early diagnosis and effective treatment options can be explored.
Bai’s innovative interferometer device plays a crucial role in this research. It utilizes a laser beam to generate interference patterns within layers on the corneal surface without requiring contact lenses or dyes. These patterns help determine tear film thickness and quality while identifying irregularities related to spread and formation after blinks.
Due to its prevalence as a disease, the National Eye Institute has emphasized the urgent need for methods to diagnose dry eye before symptoms occur. Bai’s study aims to address several concerns raised in this regard.
“The grant is an interdisciplinary dry eye research project in which we will not only apply the best new tools but also produce novel insights and make unique contributions from a physics point of view,” says Bai.
Bai’s background as a physicist and engineer provides him with a distinctive perspective for deciphering the pathogenesis of dry eye disease. The current R01 project is expected to advance our understanding of the mechanisms involved and guide compositional alterations in various therapies for DED.
This new technology developed by researchers at the UAB Faculty of Optometry holds immense promise for improving assessments and treatments for dry eye disease. By providing non-invasive evaluations and crucial insights into tear film health, it has the potential to revolutionize how we approach this widespread condition.
It is widely believed that, this groundbreaking technology could have far-reaching implications for millions of people affected by dry eye disease. With further research and development, it may lead to more effective treatment options and improved quality of life for those living with this debilitating condition.