LASIK research continues in NEI/NIH grant by Kansas State professor

May 13, 2009

Gary Conrad, PhD, has received a 4-year grant renewal of $1.48 million from the National Eye Institute for the National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH) to study the cornea. Dr. Conrad is a university distinguished professor at Kansas State University's Division of Biology.

Manhattan, KS-Gary Conrad, PhD, has received a 4-year grant renewal of $1.48 million from the National Eye Institute for the National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH) to study the cornea. Dr. Conrad is a university distinguished professor at Kansas State University’s Division of Biology.

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

Dr. Conrad and his research associates have identified a difference in the connective tissue of normal corneas compared with those that have been cut during LASIK, which is knowledge that could possibly improve the vision correction surgery.

"It was once believed that the flap would re-adhere permanently. 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," said Dr. Conrad. "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."

The grant renewal will enable the lab group to test a possible solution that would strengthen the stromal flap and allow it to bind permanently back to the cornea after LASIK, said Dr. Conrad. It uses a combination of riboflavin and ultraviolet A light to cross-link permanently the connective tissue of the flap to the underlying corneal connective tissue. The treatment currently is in clinical trials in the United States for keratoconus.

"The density of sensory nerve fibers that normally develop in our cornea is higher than anywhere else on the surface of our entire body," said Dr. Conrad. "However, they regenerate extremely slowly if they are cut, so if we could get those nerves to regenerate, it would be a major medical advance."

The grant began in 1971, and since then Conrad's lab group has discovered many properties of embryonic and adult corneas. He credits these accomplishments to the research professors, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, research assistants, and undergraduates in his lab who co-author many research publications that have made continuing grant funding possible.

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