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Grant Helps Researchers Find Causes Of Dry Eye Disease

COLUMBUS , Ohio – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded an Ohio State University optometrist nearly $1.7 million to study dry eye disease, a disorder that affects more than 12 million Americans.

Kelly Nichols, the grant's lead investigator and an associate professor of optometry, received the award from the National Eye Institute, a division of NIH. The name of the project is Dry Eye in Postmenopause. For the next five years, Nichols and her team will study 500 women, age 50 and older, in one of the largest efforts ever to uncover the causes of dry eye disease. The disease is two to three times more common in women, particularly women who have reached menopause.

Kelly Nichols

“We want to gain a better understanding of the factors associated with dry eye in postmenopausal women, and figure out the underlying causes of the disease,” Nichols said.

Dry eye disease is really a collection of irritating symptoms that includes microscopic damage to the front of the eye. The eyes may ache, burn, feel extremely dry or excessively tear.

While scientists are unsure what specifically triggers the disease, Nichols suspects that dry eye may have multiple causes. Understanding those causes may lead to the development of better treatments. Right now, over-the-counter eye drops called “artificial tears” are the primary treatment for dry eye.

“We want to gain a better understanding of the factors associated with dry eye in postmenopausal women, and figure out the underlying causes of the disease.”

“Not everyone with dry eye disease responds to the same treatment,” Nichols said. “Even though two people with the disease may have the same symptoms, there can be very different causes behind those symptoms.”

She and her colleagues will use various laboratory techniques to examine three components relevant to the dry eye process. They will check participants for:

abnormalities in the amount of lipids, or fat, found in tears (layers of fat and mucus surround the watery portion of tears); changes in the thickness of tears (tear thinning is a hallmark characteristic of dry eye disease); and changes in the structure of meibomian glands – tiny, pinhole-sized glands that line the rim of the upper and lower eyelids and secrete meibum, an oily, fatty substance found in tears.

The researchers will compare the results between women with dry eye disease and women without the disorder.

Nichols' colleagues on this grant, all with Ohio State, include Kari Green-Church, a research scientist with the university's Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Facility; Rebecca Jackson, a professor of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism in the College of Medicine; Peter King-Smith, a professor of optometry; and Jason Nichols, an assistant professor of optometry.


Contact: Kelly Nichols, (614) 688-5381; KNichols@optometry.osu.edu

Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.235@osu.edu