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Institute of Advanced Study

Future-proofing Eye Function using modelling, computational biology and laser tools

Professor Roy Quinlan (Biological Sciences)

Professor Neil Cameron (Chemistry)

Dr Buddho Chakrabarti (Mathematical Sciences)

Professor John Girkin (Physics)

Dr Nicholas Holliman (Engineering and Computer Science)

Professor Anna Taormina (Mathematical Sciences)

Dr Jun Jie Wu (Engineering and Computer Science)


The experimental goal of this project is to be able to model the development and growth of a vertebrate eye lens. As we age, so our vision deteriorates and for every normally-sighted person it is the change in our eye lenses that has the most noticeable and perhaps significant effects on our lives. This is because presbyopia and the transition to bifocal/varifocal glasses is one of those milestones that all of a certain age have experienced. To be able to understand this natural ageing event requires a detailed understanding of the lens, its cellular architecture and the molecular-level changes that accompany presbyopia. It is a complex multiscale problem and the most significant gap in our knowledge is how individual cells are organised to form such a beautifully crafted, optically functional structure as the eye lens and how this changes as we age. 

A model of the growth of a vertebrate eye lens will provide a framework to not only incorporate the wealth of data available for molecular and spatial modifications that are linked to ageing lenses, but also provide an understanding of lens pathologies and eye evolution. Considering that within the animal kingdom the eye has evolved independently some forty times, the lens marks the final refinement in the transition from a pinhole to camera-like eye. The eye lens is the most radiation sensitive tissue within our bodies and its damage is manifested as a very specific type of lens opacity.   So from understanding radiation-induced lens cataract through to eye evolution this project offers ample opportunity for collaboration that can be best realized at Durham University and hosted by the Biophysical Sciences Institute with its strength and depth in mathematical modeling, computational and 3D visualization expertise as well as light microscopy and laser expertise. 

The project is led by Professor Roy Quinlan, an internationally recognised expert on the vertebrate eye lens, and involves colleagues from the departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Engineering and Computer Sciences. The project provides a focus to engage with other key University Institutes such as the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience and the Durham Energy Institute as they consider the environmental impacts of future energy policies.   The project is supported by an IAS Fellow, Professor Jer Kuszak, who is a world authority on the eye lens.  His research on cell organization in vertebrate lens and his interest in Computation Biology, an emerging interdisciplinary area for future NIH funding, is of particular interest to the project term and Professor Kuszack will work with colleagues at Durham to select the most appropriate datasets and modeling tools in order to advise the team's strategy for future experimental goals and grant proposals.