$2.5 million grant to fund research of biomechanical markers in glaucoma

June 16, 2017
The research involves using OCT to reveal and quantify structures within the optic nerve that are critical in glaucoma development.

Two researchers in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Ophthalmology (Birmingham, AL) have received a four-year, $2.55 million R01 grant from the National Eye Institute (Bethesda, MD) to explore, using an optical imaging method, how visual field loss developed with glaucoma is associated with individual-specific biomechanics of the eye.

Related: European project to develop next-gen OCT systems for glaucoma diagnosis

Massimo A. Fazio, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology, and Christopher A. Girkin, MD, will explore the role of biomechanical differences in the optic nerve that may explain why individuals of African descent are at greatest risk of developing glaucoma. It applies Fazio's novel computational approaches to a large multicenter cohort of patients followed in the African Descent and Glaucoma Evaluation Study (ADAGES). Prior studies of this cohort have defined racial difference in progression of glaucoma along (ADAGES 1 and 2) with genetic factors (ADAGES 3).

"The scope of the work aims to uncover how the morphology and biomechanics of the optic nerve head is associated with glaucoma onset and progression," Fazio explains. "Our ultimate goal is to discover a biomarker to help physicians detect glaucoma before the visual field deteriorates, or to identify which individuals are more likely to progress too fast."

Fazio uses optical coherence tomography (OCT), which captures 3D images of the optic nerve head to show the structural damage in each eye. He has developed new methods to reveal and quantify structures deep within the optic nerve that are critical in the development of glaucoma.

The study will define the structural and biomechanical differences in the optic nerve that exist between people of European and African descents, and how these differences increase the rate of glaucoma progression and disease susceptibility within this at-risk minority group. Fazio says the collagen structure and biomechanics are different between the two groups, and are therefore correlated with a different rate of damage.

Fazio has a multidisciplinary background in machine design, experimental mechanics, and biomechanical characterization of soft tissue, and is a mechanical engineer. He has dedicated his career to developing customized methods of noncontact optical techniques to measure deformations in loaded materials to gain a deeper understanding of the biomechanical properties of ocular tissues. Fazio holds a primary joint appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

For more information, please visit www.uab.edu/medicine/ophthalmology.

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