March 23, 2011

Chancellor's fund supports multidisciplinary project in Corneal Neurobiology LaboratorySandeep Jain, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Corneal Neurobiology Laboratory has received start-up funding for a project with Craig Foster, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Civil and Materials Engineering Department from the UIC Chancellor’s Discovery Fund for Multidisciplinary Pilot Research.

The project aims to develop a new treatment for keratoconus, a progressive degenerative disease that causes loss of stiffness and shape of the cornea, resulting in severely impaired vision loss. Keratoconus accounts for 15% of the corneal transplants performed in the United States. According to Dr. Jain, there are some treatments that help correct the vision loss associated with keratoconus, there are no currently available treatments that arrest the progression of the disease.

Dr. Jain, an expert in the biology of the cornea and corneal disease, is working with Dr. Foster who uses computer modeling to investigate a variety of problems in solid materials, including plasticity and damage to fracture, shear banding and other types of localized deformation. Together, they are developing a new procedure to improve the effectiveness of collagen crosslinking, which is in its early stages of clinical testing. Collagen crosslinking employs a riboflavin solution that, when activated under ultraviolet light, binds the collagen fibers that provide much of the necessary stiffness to the cornea. The new bonds increase the stiffness and strength of the cornea, arrest progression of the disease and often restore the desired shape.

However, while collagen crosslinking can correct the loss of stiffness and shape of the cornea in keratoconus, all patients do not exhibit the same amount of recovery. Dr. Jain and Dr. Foster are developing a computer model of the cornea tissue that includes the effects of collagen fibrils and crosslinks and will be able to predict the resulting cornea shape under various treatments. Ultimately, the model will be able to determine an optimal treatment program for individual patients.

The Chancellor’s Discovery Fund fosters academic inquiry that draws on the expertise and innovations of multiple disciplines, to nurture the research career trajectories of promising early stage investigators, and to help awardees leverage extramural funding.

For more information about UIC, visit