The ocular surface, consisting of the cornea, conjunctiva and the tear film, is critical for our vision. Ocular surface disorders account for bulk of the primary eye care services in the U.S, with dry eye alone affecting about 6 million women and 3 million men with moderate to severe symptoms and an additional 20 to 30 million people with mild symptoms. For us to be able to see clearly, we need a healthy and transparent cornea, which is somewhat analogous to your vehicle’s windshield. A strong and clean windshield is necessary to protect us from wind, dirt, rain, bugs, birds, pollen, falling leaves, rocks, etc, that will hurt if we are exposed. With usage, the windshield can get dirty and/or develop scratches, making it harder for us to see through. To keep the windshield clean, we use windshield washer liquid, and the windshield wipers. Similarly, health of the cornea (the windshield) depends on healthy conjunctiva and eyelids (windshield wipers) and a proper tear film (windshield washer liquid).
The Ocular Surface Development and Gene Expression Laboratory, led by Dr. Shivalingappa (Shiva) Swamynathan, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is interested in learning how the timely production of different proteins that make up our ocular surface is regulated during development and what goes wrong in ocular surface disorders. Recent research from the Swamynathan laboratory revealed the many critical contributions of Krüppel-like transcription factors Klf4 and Klf5 to maturation and maintenance of a healthy ocular surface. Ongoing research in the Swamynathan laboratory, supported by an RO1 grant award from the National Eye Institute is aimed at understanding the ocular surface expression and functions of Slurp1, a protein that is present in abundance in healthy ocular surface, and disappears during disease conditions. In a collaborative study with the Hendricks and Kinchington labs, the Swamynathan lab demonstrated that Slurp1 expression was significantly reduced in adenoviral keratitis model of corneal inflammation, restoration of which restricted corneal inflammation, suggesting an immunomodulatory role for Slurp1. Outcomes of ongoing studies in the Swamynathan laboratory are expected to reveal the value of Slurp1 as a novel diagnostic and/or therapeutic target for managing ocular surface inflammatory disorders.