Identifying the mechanisms of sub-clinical corneal inflammation during contact lens wear

Have you ever wondered what happens to the surface of the eye when you apply a contact lens? Some people suffer from red and painful eyes with their contact lenses and many wearers suffer from discomfort at the end of each lens-wear day.  We speculate that these two types of responses (corneal inflammation and wearer discomfort) both derive from the same source: an increased but sub-clinical inflammatory response of the cornea when a contact lens is applied.  Recent data from research undertaken by the supervisory teams at the Universities of Melbourne and Manchester support this form of change to the eye during contact lens wear. However, the role of inflammation in inducing these adverse sensations remains controversial, and the mechanisms underpinning the discomfort response have not yet been determined. This knowledge is essential to develop effective interventions for the condition.

The central aims of this PhD project are:

(i) To comprehensively investigate the dynamics of the anterior eye immune response in contact lens wearers. This will involve corneal in vivo confocal microscopy (a state-of-the-art, non-invasive, high-resolution imaging technique that enables direct visualisation of the corneal nerves and dendritic immune cells in the living human eye) and immunological tear film analyses, to characterise the anterior eye inflammatory response. The dynamics of corneal dendritic cell responses, including a consideration of factors that may modulate their phenotype and activity (e.g., type of contact lens, mode of contact lens wear) will be examined in order to provide insight into the utility of this metric as a biomarker of corneal inflammation during contact lens wear. This work will involve participant recruitment, clinical examinations and digital image analysis at the Melbourne and Manchester locations.

(ii) To characterise the structural, physiological and immunological interplay between corneal immune cells and sensory nerves during homeostasis and perturbations (e.g., inflammation). This study will correlate immune cell morphometry with markers of cellular activation. Mouse models of corneal inflammation will be used to correlate morphological changes in immune cell populations with functional activation. These findings will provide clinically translatable information that will shed light on the functional relevance of morphological changes to immune cells in the human cornea, such as those evident during contact lens wear. This component of the project will involve animal handling, clinical imaging, ex vivo confocal microscopy, flow cytometry and 4-dimensional image reconstruction and image analysis, undertaken in Melbourne.


The University of Melbourne: Laura Downie and Holly Chinnery.

University of Manchester: Carole Maldonado-Codina and Philip Morgan