Ocular Biomechanics

Recent advances in technology have opened up new avenues for vision science research. One such area is ocular biomechanics, which is the study of the eye using traditional engineering principles and approaches. The UAB Department of Ophthalmology recognizes the bright future of ocular biomechanics and aims to become a global leader in the field with the establishment of the Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport Program.

The program has already spurred recruitment of renowned scientists to UAB, including its founding director J. Crawford Downs, Ph.D. It has also accelerated research in this field, which possesses the potential for significant breakthrough in the treatment of blinding diseases.

Researchers in the program are studying glaucoma, myopia (commonly known as nearsightedness), age-related macular degeneration, and corneal biomechanics in keratoconus, as well as the biomechanics of ocular trauma. The new program brings together engineers, biologists, imaging experts, and clinicians to build the knowledge to further understand disease mechanism and improve treatments.

The long-term goal of the program is to use the principles of engineering to understand the mechanisms underlying various ocular diseases. It will use these findings to fill in the knowledge gaps about these eye disorders and develop novel engineering-, imaging-, and molecular-based diagnostic tools and therapies. For example, one can imagine a clinical imaging instrument that could determine a patient’s individual risk for developing glaucoma or other eye disorders, says Dr. Downs.

Initially, researchers are focusing on several short-term goals funded by the NIH, EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, and Research to Prevent Blindness, among others:

  • Identifying the factors underlying increased susceptibility to glaucoma in the elderly and persons of African descent, by studying changes in the ONH structure and its response to intraocular pressure.
  • Using a wireless telemetry system unique to UAB, researchers study how fluctuations in intraocular pressure at multiple timescales relate to glaucoma to better understand this key risk factor.
  • Clarifying the biological foundations for the biomechanical changes in the eye seen with aging, corneal disease, and myopia.
  • Studying the transport trafficking of lipid complexes of age-related macular degeneration.

This program establishes UAB as home to the world’s leading group of experts in the field of ocular biomechanics. Researchers will collaborate with clinical scientists in cornea, oculoplastics and glaucoma specialties. The close ties between the research and clinical faculty and facilities at UAB are critical to success, as is the translation of research findings into the clinic.

In addition to Downs, the Ocular Biomechanics and Biotransport Program includes three ocular biomechanical engineers, all specializing in various domains of ocular biomechanics.