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Cross-discipline: Mathematical sciences research looks at dry eye

Mathematical sciences might offer eye care providers insight into better treatment options for dry eye as part of a study to model ocular tear fluid movement.

Until the day comes where we cure our patients, we don't stop research.

Research published in the May 6 edition of Physics of Fluids, titled "Tear Film Dynamics with Evaporation, Wetting and Time-Dependent Flux Boundary Condition on an Eye-Shaped Domain," presented a mathematical model to simulate the direction tear film travels when entering the eye from the lacrimal glands to better understand basic tear dynamics.  

The model was incorporated into a computer program that was able to accurately recreate the flow of tears on the ocular surface across the open eye that were observed in the clinical setting. The next step for the research team is to simulate dynamics of tears in a blinking eye.  

Kara Maki, assistant professor at Rochester Institute of Technology's (RIT's) School of Mathematical Sciences and study contributor, stated in an RIT news release that studying basic tear fluid movements will help spur better understanding of what goes wrong in patients with dry eye, and could ultimately lead to potential cures.  

"The nice thing about having a model is that you can make unrealistic things happen," Maki stated. "For example, we can flood the eye and see where the tears go. Or we can look at what happens when the drainage holes are plugged. Where does the fluid go? You can start to explore these things in a safe way."  

The material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.  

Dry eye—a common foe
A common, often chronic condition, dry eye affects nearly 5 million people ages 50 and older in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute. Of those, nearly 3 million are womena prevalence primarily due to the hormonal changes associated with menopause.  

Still, millions more Americans suffer lesser symptoms of dry eye, such as irritating or burning sensations that prove more than simply bothersome. Advanced stages of dry eye can go as far as causing vision-impairing damage to the surface of the eye, and while current treatments aim to restore normal tear amounts to minimize discomfort and maintain ocular health, there remains no cure.  

Andrew Morgenstern, O.D., AOA New Technology Committee member, says dry eye is one of the most common eye diseases that optometrists diagnose, and likewise, there's rarely much time elapsed before new dry eye research is published in an optometric journal.  

The mathematical sciences research, whether it proves effective or not, stands out for the simple reason that it's taking a look at a common problem from a different perspective.  

"Many successful projects have been created because they took an outside look at the status quo," Dr. Morgenstern says. "While [the research] may not prove successful, it is certainly a worthwhile evaluation of data because you never know what you will find."  

And when it comes to research that can improve the visual health and quality of life for patients afflicted by dry eye, Dr. Morgenstern welcomes the work. After all, it matters little prescribing the best glasses or contact lenses if insufficient tear film keeps a patient from seeing clearly.  

"The tear film is a major component of the happiness of the patient, and we haven't solved it yet, because there are still patients who suffer," Dr. Morgenstern says. "Until the day comes where we cure our patients, we don't stop research."  

Find dry eye materials, such as fact sheets and other resources, in the AOA Marketplace. In the meantime, doctors can guide their patients to learn more about their condition at aoa.org/patients-and-public.

June 12, 2014

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