Diamond in the rough

Studying donated eyes with a particle accelerator is giving researchers new insight into the connections between myopia and glaucoma


Using a machine that accelerates electrons to near-light speed is helping scientists to gain a greater understanding of glaucoma and myopia.

Cardiff University School of Optometry and Vision Sciences senior lecturer, Dr Craig Boote, is using the UK’s national synchrotron to examine the structure of collagen protein at the back of eyes donated to science.

The Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire is used by scientists from a range of different fields – from aeronautical engineering to the food industry.

The synchrotron is 10,000 times more powerful than traditional benchtop instruments and works by accelerating electrons into bright beams that are then directed into laboratories known as ‘beamlines’.

Dr Boote uses the x-rays produced at Diamond to study how protein at the back of the eye is organised on a microscopic level.

“We can only do that with the very, very intense x-rays that are produced at places like Diamond,” he explained.

“What we are finding in people that have diseases like glaucoma and myopia the protein at the back of the eye is very different from people with normal vision. We believe that this is contributing to the development of the disease in these people,” Dr Boote highlighted.

In people with glaucoma and myopia, there is a rearrangement of the collagen at the back of the eye so some regions become less dense while others become more dense.

Dr Boote emphasised that there is an “obvious link” between glaucoma and myopia.

“People with high degrees of myopia are more prone to develop glaucoma,” he elaborated.

“What we are doing is looking at the eye from a holistic point of view and connecting the dots between these different diseases. It may be by studying myopia we can get a handle on both diseases,” Dr Boote concluded.