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Your eyes: more than just windows to your soul

Professor Paul Donaldson, University of Auckland

Posted: Thu, 3 Nov 2016

When you read, the lens of your eye must maintain both clarity and the correct shape to focus on the text and refract the light to the back of your eye. If you get distracted and glance outside, your eye performs an amazing feat of physics to refocus on objects that are further away.

But the lens of your eye is made of living cells. So how do they stay clear and maintain their shape to precisely focus light from both near and far? Professor Paul Donaldson from the University of Auckland’s School of Medical Sciences, and colleagues from both the University of Auckland and the State University of New York, are working on an answer.

They have already used high-tech measurements and molecular biology to show that water and sodium ions are pumped around the lens of the eye, which helps maintain a hydrostatic pressure in tune with the shape and clarity requirements of the lens.

Professor Donaldson’s Marsden-funded research will build on their earlier discovery to determine exactly how the cells of the eye regulate the water pressure to maintain clarity and change the focal length of the lens. They will also investigate whether applying mechanical tension to the lens, to mimic lens refocusing, alters water transport and lens power. This research will also provide clues as to why the process sometimes goes wrong, for example in cataract formation in the ageing eye.

The ultimate goal is to come up with non-invasive, early intervention methods of improving vision and delaying the onset of cataracts. Ageing and diabetes are two causes of cataracts, and so this research will have increasing significance as our population ages and the incidence of diabetes continues to rise.

Total Funding: $810,000 (excl. GST) over 3 years

Researchers: Professor Paul Donaldson, School of Medical Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142