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Feb 2, 2023

Battling antibiotic resistant eye infections

Image is of Dr. Ajitha Thanabalasuriar

In 2022 Fighting Blindness Canada (FBC) awarded Dr. Ajitha Thanabalsuriar from McGill University a $200,000 research grant to further her research into antibiotic corneal infections, also called bacterial keratitis. Learn about Dr. Thanabalsuriar’s exciting project below.

What is Bacterial keratitis

Bacterial keratitis is an infection of the cornea that affects contact lens wearers as well as individuals with eye injuries or who are immunocompromised. It is very common and more than 50% of individuals who wear contact lenses will develop eye infections. Infections are usually treated with antibiotics. However, as Dr. Thanabalasuriar explains, “Bacterial keratitis can be difficult to treat as infections can be antibiotic resistant.”

Globally, bacterial keratitis is estimated to cause up to 2 million cases of unilateral (single eye) blindness every year.

Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s Research

Image is a microscope capture of macrophages (immune cells) in the cornea of a mouse eye.
The image is of macrophages (immune cells) in the cornea of a mouse taken by student, Marc Groleau, from Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s lab.

Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s research aims to understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. In particular, she is studying one way that bacteria develop resistance by developing into something called a biofilm. Biofilms are a collection of bacteria embedded in a matrix which makes them antibiotic resistant. Intriguingly, Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s previous research suggests that in response to infection, our own immune cells may push bacteria to develop biofilms. This project will explore how immune cells are recruited to sites of infection and how bacteria produce biofilms.

“In our work we will image the development of bacterial keratitis on the surface of the eye in real-time. Using this method, we hope to uncover alternative drug targets to prevent bacterial keratitis.”

Dr. Thanabalasuriar, who holds a Canada Research Chair, is an early-career investigator. She explained the importance of Fighting Blindness Canada’s research grant at the launch of her career.

“This funding has been instrumental to helping me setup my laboratory and set me up in the field of eye disease. Although I have been working on keratitis since a postdoctoral fellow, I have not been able to develop collaborations and get to know the eye community until receiving this funding.”

Dr. Thanabalasuriar continues, “Funding is so crucial for new investigators building their niche and developing novel research projects. By providing funding for early-career researchers, Fighting Blindness Canada donors are promoting young scientists in Canada and developing ground breaking research that would otherwise be next to impossible to move forward.”

We are excited to follow Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s work. To watch a recent presentation of her research, check out this recording from our View Point education event (Dr. Thanabalasuriar’s presentation can be viewed at minutes 51:10).

Support Canadian vision researchers like Dr. Thanabalasuriar by making a donation today.

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