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Release: Immediate

UI ophthalmologist receives grant to study eye infections

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Detection of amoebae or fungi on the eye may become easier, thanks to a microscope being used by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC).

UI ophthalmologists are utilizing a confocal microscope, one of 10 in the nation used to magnify the eye to detect abnormalities such as fungi and acanthamoeba. While a normal microscope can magnify the eye 20 to 30 times, the confocal has a magnification of 400 times. It allows ophthalmologists to see objects on the eye that normally could be seen only if the eye was physically removed.

According to Dr. William Mathers, professor of ophthalmology at the UI College of Medicine, continued uses of the confocal microscope at the UIHC may revolutionize ophthalmology. "The confocal microscope can find fungal infections, amoebae, inflammations or crystals that you can't discover in a regular examination," he says. "In terms of clinical application of this type of microscope, the UI is more active than anywhere else."

Infections are characterized by red, itchy, uncomfortable eyes. If left untreated, symptoms may result in blindness. Amoebae infections in the eye are typically very rare. Approximately one or two a year were previously diagnosed at UIHC. However, with the confocal microscope, infections were found more frequently. "We are beginning to see as many as 50 a year," Mathers says.

Mathers received a two-year, $250,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to further examine what they are seeing. "We know what we are seeing is amoebae; however, we do not know what kind," says Mathers. "We want to identify clearly what organisms are involved in human infections earlier, easier and quicker than now possible."

Amoebae is transferred through water. During the flood of 1993, the amount of amoebae infections were higher than normal.

Contact lens wearers should take heed. "People should not put tap water on their contacts, nor should they swim with their contacts in," Mathers says. "By doing so, you are risking an infection." While contact lens wearers are at risk, good care of their contacts is an easy way to avoid an infection.