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Spotlight on research: International collaborations support our understanding of the eye


South West Sydney researcher collaborates with US scientists for eye research

The surface of our eye is protected and nourished by a thin film of tears. When tears do not function well eyes become sore, itchy and irritated leading to the most common eye disease – dry eye. Dry eye affects more than 4 million Australians and is prevalent in population 50 years and older, women and contact lens wearers. The numbers are also increasing due to increased visual demands related to smart phones, tablets and computers, and air-conditioning in offices.

Studying composition and function of tears is the key to determine normal working of tears and their dysfunction in dry eye to find its treatment.

Dr Poonam Mudgil from the School of Medicine, Western Sydney University has collaborated with US scientists at the University of Louisville, Department of Ophthalmology and Chemistry to find new information on lipids or fats in tears which help in functioning of tears. Their collaborative research findings have been published recently in the reputed eye research journal, Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Previously, scientists thought that lipids in tears were mainly derived from the oil ducts in the lids. This new research has shown that small quantities of skin oils also mix with tear lipids to help tears form a thin stable film across the entire surface of the eye to protect and nourish it and prevent it from drying.

For most patients dry eye is not just a burning and irritating sensation in the eye but it is quite incapacitating. It makes normal activities of life such as driving, reading and working on computers difficult affecting a person’s ability to study, work and travel. In worse cases, it can damage the cornea and ultimately lead to the loss of vision.

This research has developed new information on tear composition and function which will be used in developing new and better treatments for dry eye.


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The full reference for the published article is:

Mudgil P, Borchman D, Gerlach D, Yappert M (2016) Sebum/meibum surface film interactions and phase transitional differences. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 57:2401-11.


Dr Poonam Mudgil is a research officer with the School of Medicine at Western Sydney University. You can read more about Dr Mudgil’s research on our “Find a Researcher” page here.