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Donated excimer laser to help UF researchers study wound healing in the eyes

A recently donated Summit SVS Apex excimer laser, valued at $500,000, will enable University of Florida College of Medicine researchers to study a puzzling question: Why do some people achieve 20/20 eyesight after vision correction surgery while others do not?

Part of the answer may lie in differences in how eyes recover from the surgery. And now with the new laser – one of very few dedicated to research – UF scientists hope to find the factors at work in the wound-healing process.

The laser is being provided to UF for at least two years by Clear Vision Laser Centers of Lakewood, Colo., a leading distributor of ophthalmic laser systems and related products designed to correct common vision disorders.

In animal studies, researchers plan to use it to mimic the increasingly popular laser refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK surgery, in which a laser is used to reshape the cornea for the treatment of nearsightedness, astigmatism and other vision problems.

An estimated 1 million of these surgeries will be conducted this year. Researchers will then investigate how the animals’ wounds heal in the hope that such studies can shed light on how human tissue recovers.

Understanding the recovery process could help explain why 5 to 10 percent of patients do not achieve 20/40 vision or better and also reveal why 34 percent do not gain the ideal result of 20/20 or better following the surgery. It also may help researchers understand why 10 to 20 percent of patients initially receive optimum results, but later have some regression of the effect.

“If we took 10 people with the same prescription, and on the same day performed the same laser treatment on all 10 people, the results would be slightly different,” said Dr. Michael H. Goldstein, an assistant professor of ophthalmology who will work on the study with UF Wound Research Center Director Greg Schultz, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “And the reason is that everyone heals in a slightly different way.”

Goldstein added that there currently is no way to predict how well someone will heal.

With support from a National Institutes of Health grant, UF researchers will try to identify the specific growth factors that are important in wound healing and then try to figure out which genes are responsible for creating these growth factors. Once these are identified, they will try to develop gene therapy approaches to “shut off” the genes responsible for abnormal wound healing. That concept could then be applied to wound healing in other parts of the body. Goldstein said even though the current lasers are very good and likely to be improved, the human wound-healing response will always be a factor in optimizing the success of these surgeries.