A collaboration between researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Queensland University of Technology, The University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has made an important breakthrough in understanding the composition of the tear film that protects our eyes, which could lead to more effective treatments for dry eye disease. The research was supported by ARC Linkage Projects scheme funding in partnership with Allergan, a manufacturer of dry eye formulations and contact lenses.

Leading one of the research teams, and supported through the ARC Future Fellowships scheme, Associate Professor Todd Mitchell, from the UOW’s School of Medicine, Molecular Horizons and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, determined exactly the molecular structure of the most abundant lipids on the surface of the eye. Confirmation of the structures was made possible by total chemical synthesis of the compounds by another UOW research team led by Associate Professor Michael Kelso.

These lipids slow evaporation of the underlying water layer, preventing the eye from drying out. These discoveries open up new areas of research for understanding how these compounds work, and potentially how they could be applied in new dry eye treatments.

For more than 40 years, scientists have been trying to determine the precise composition of the lipids on the surface of the eye, in order to understand how they work to prevent evaporation, while still providing a smooth surface to enable clear vision.

Image: Associate Professor Todd Mitchell and fellow researcher Associate Professor Michael Kelso in the lab.
Credit: Paul Jones, University of Wollongong.