Liu awarded $1.36M NIH grant to improve glaucoma diagnosis

Posted: November 3, 2022

Biomedical Engineering Professor Jun Liu leads a multidisciplinary team of researchers that earned a $1.36 million, four-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify new modifiable risk factors for glaucoma and vision loss due to optic nerve damage.

Jun Liu Headshot in Lab
Professor Jun Liu

Glaucoma—a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve—affects about three million Americans and is a leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Current glaucoma treatments aim to lower eye pressure to help stop vision loss. While these treatments are beneficial, many patients continue to lose vision due to persistent optic nerve damage. 

“There is a great need to identify other modifiable risk factors for optic nerve damage and develop novel treatments to combat this public health problem,” said Liu. “Biomechanical stresses and strains at the optic nerve head are not determined by intraocular pressure alone. Computational studies have shown that the biomechanics of the peripapillary sclera are among the most influential factors.”

Biomechanical changes to the peripapillary sclera, the tough outer eye tissue that surrounds the optic nerve, are observed in older adults, African Americans, and people with high myopia—a high-degree of nearsightedness.

Liu and her team aim to advance understanding of the biomechanical interplay between the optic nerve head and peripapillary sclera using a high-resolution ultrasound elastography technique she developed at The Ohio State University. The technique characterizes complex 3D biomechanical responses of eye tissue with the ultimate goal of improving diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. 

“We’ve developed a very sensitive and accurate method utilizing high-frequency ultrasound to noninvasively quantify the biomechanics of ocular tissue,” she explained.

Ohio State collaborators on the project are Dr. Sayoko Moroi, chair and professor of ophthalmology; Jeff Pan, associate professor-clinical of biomedical informatics; and Dr. Anne Metzler, professor-clinical and head of ophthalmology in the Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences. Research Scientist Hongli Yang, and Senior Scientist and Van Buskirk Chair for Ophthalmic Research Dr. Claude Burgoyne from Devers Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon, are also collaborators. Biomedical engineering graduate students Sunny Kwok and Macky Pan contributed significantly to the preliminary data of this grant.

The researchers will further develop Liu’s high-resolution ultrasound elastography technique and conduct studies to determine what peripapillary sclera biomechanical properties are optimal and how the tissue can be modified to mitigate optic nerve head damage from high eye pressure.

“Combined with the development of a translatable technique to image such interplay in the eye, this knowledge will lay the groundwork for developing novel diagnostic and treatment strategies to reduce glaucoma-related vision loss,” explained Liu.

Research reported in this story was supported by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R01EY032621-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications,