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EU-funded researchers first to develop mathematical model for eye growth

Lack of flexibility in the eye affects practically everyone over the age of 50, and cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the world. EU-funded researchers have created mathematical models for the growth of mouse eye lenses, which could lead to innovative future treatments for cataracts.
EU-funded researchers first to develop mathematical model for eye growth
Very little is known about the exact processes by which many of the body’s tissues and organs develop, and the lens of the eye is particularly unusual as it continues to grow throughout life. Clarity of sight is lost if the size, shape or position of the eye is not carefully regulated, and determining the growth pattern of eye lenses is therefore essential to further our understanding of how and why cataracts form, so that researchers can develop ways to prevent, or slow, their onset.

EU-funded MOLEGRO project scientists are the first in the world to develop a mathematical model of eye-lens growth in mice, which will allow researchers to delve more deeply into the reasons behind loss of lens clarity, and hopefully develop some medical solutions for cataracts.

‘This is historically the first ever mathematical model of the growth process of the eye lens,’ said Professor Hrvoje Šikić of the University of Zagreb, principal investigator of the project. ‘If our hypotheses about cortical cataract development prove to be correct also for human lenses, then this may lead to methods to reduce cataracts, which is in some underdeveloped countries still the main cause of blindness.’

‘Penny pushers’

The researchers found that the cells multiply along the edges of the eye, and as they do so they ‘push’ their neighbours, other recently-formed cells, towards the equator of the lens, and from there inwards to the centre of the eye. Since only a very small number of cells are involved in this procedure, it’s likely that they have a very strong impact on lens clarity.

The project team then made a physical model of the entire process using layers of pennies, which in the end resembled ‘penny pusher’ machines commonly found in casinos and fairgrounds. ‘The establishment of the biomedical side of our basic idea then enabled us to start developing the fully detailed mathematical model,’ said Prof. Šikić.

Challenges ahead

Collecting and assembling the precise data needed for the research was not without its challenges, however. New approaches and simplifications of existing methodologies were needed to deal with the precise counting of individual cells on a spherical surface, as well as the spatial movement of the cells.

Two major peer-review papers arose from the project, and the results were presented at major conferences in Hawaii. The study could potentially have further implications for cancer research, as to date there has never been a case of eye-lens cancer, and the scientists involved in MOLEGRO have put forward a theory that this might be due to the growth process of the lens.

Following on from the project, the researchers are currently trying to develop their model for the human eye. This is more difficult to study than that of the mouse, not only because of the increased size, but also its increased complexity. The human eye lens changes shape many times per day, unlike mice, and our eye lens is also split into two ellipsoidal halves, whereas a mouse lens is spherical. The inner structure of a human eye cell is far more complicated than that of a mouse cell, which will bring further challenges for the researchers. However, the axioms of the models based on mice are biologically sound and extremely basic, meaning that they should largely be applicable to human lenses too.

Subjects

Life Sciences

Keywords

MOLEGRO, cataract, eye research, optical research, vision, health, eye health, lens
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