Biomedical Engineer Invents Technique That May Help Improve Eyesight
A professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Miami College of Engineering, Noel Ziebarth, and her groundbreaking research may help in the development of treatments designed to help the blind see again. The professor is also head of the Biomedical Atomic Force Microscopy Lab where she uses scanning electron, atomic force and confocal microscopes to analyze the retina, cornea and lens of the human eye in its diseased and normal states.
Ziebarth is mainly interested in treatments that may be used to treat cataracts. Cataracts are the clouding of the lens of the eye, which is normally clear, and is a condition that’s related to age. She’s currently studying the membrane that encompasses the eye lens, which becomes thicker with age. Ziebarth theorizes that the membranes’ increased density may be what hinders anti-cataract medications from being effective. She adds that there might be an alternative way to administer a therapeutic agent to the membrane that would reduce its thickness, thus allowing drugs to reach the cataracts more efficiently.
The lab Ziebarth directs is currently studying various drug-delivery methods that may be used to treat keratoconus, which is an eye disorder. This disorder affects the cornea, causing it to thin as it slowly projects outward, into a cone shape. This causes distorted and blurry vision. The lab is examining corneal cross-linking as well as combining ultraviolet light with vitamin B2 (riboflavin) drops to help strengthen the cornea.
Going an extra mile, Ziebarth is also working on determining the effectiveness of various iterations of the above combination method. She focuses on several different concerns, including how long the technique should be administered for, if it can be administered faster, and if the technique will be more effective if the light is pulsed. She adds that this the bottom line is dependent on how stiff the cornea has gotten, explaining that her team’s research is measuring various techniques and monitoring their results to see how effective they are at returning the cornea back to its normal state.
Additionally, Ziebarth asserts that collaboration is one of the backbones of her research, as it allows her to be part of a team bringing important medical advancements to life. Ziebarth reveals her excitement on a future collaboration featuring Noam Alperin, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at the Miller School of Medicine. The two professors together with other researchers will explore why astronauts who have been on extended-duration missions develop visual impairments.
Finally, Ziebarth notes that the coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity to look into how the virus may affect eyesight, adding that she would never get tired of conducting research as ultimately the whole process will help someone, which is what she enjoys the most about her work.
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