A macro eye photo showing keratoconus, a thinning of the cornea in the form of a cone

We’re funding research to help treat keratoconus more effectively because we believe that people’s sight matters.

Keratoconus is a progressive eye disorder that leads to thinning and bulging of the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye. If left untreated, it can result in significant visual impairment. 

Individuals with keratoconus typically experience distorted and blurred vision, which can worsen over time.

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1 in 450

are affected by keratoconus

Causes of keratoconus

The exact cause isn’t known. Researchers think that genetic and environmental factors are involved. The condition often emerges during adolescence or early adulthood and may progress gradually. Early detection and appropriate management are essential to prevent severe vision impairment.

Factors that may contribute to keratoconus

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  • Genetic predisposition: Evidence suggests that genetic factors play a role in the development of keratoconus. Individuals with a family history of the condition may have a higher risk.
  • Eye rubbing: Persistent and aggressive eye rubbing can weaken the corneal tissue and contribute to the progression of keratoconus.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Some hormonal imbalances have been linked to the development of keratoconus, which could explain why the condition often starts during puberty.
  • Connective tissue disorders: Certain connective tissue disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of keratoconus.
  • Environmental factors: Some environmental factors, like chronic eye irritation, may contribute to developing keratoconus in susceptible individuals.

It’s important to note that only some people with the mentioned risk factors will develop keratoconus, and early intervention can make a significant difference in managing the condition effectively.

Regular eye check-ups and early diagnosis are crucial steps in managing keratoconus. Employing methods to stabilise the cornea’s shape and visual clarity is the primary goal of treatment.

Symptoms and treatments for keratoconus

In its early stages, keratoconus might not manifest obvious symptoms. As the disorder progresses, individuals may experience the following signs:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light and glare
  • Visual halos, especially at night
  • The need for frequent changes in glasses or contact lens prescriptions

Treatments for keratoconus

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  • Corneal cross-linking (CXL): This treatment aims to strengthen the cornea by applying a special UV light and riboflavin (vitamin B2) eye drops to induce cross-linking of corneal collagen fibres. This procedure can slow down or halt the progression of keratoconus.
  • Contact lenses: Specially designed contact lenses, such as rigid gas permeable (RGP) or scleral lenses, can help correct vision for people with keratoconus.
  • Intrastromal corneal ring segments (ICRS): These are implanted in the cornea to help reshape the cornea and improve vision. This treatment can be used when contact lenses are not well-tolerated 
  • Corneal transplantation: A corneal transplant may be considered in advanced cases where other means cannot adequately correct vision. This involves replacing the damaged cornea with a healthy donor cornea.
  • Topography-guided laser procedures: Advanced laser technologies can reshape the cornea’s surface, improving vision quality.

Regular follow-up visits with an ophthalmologist or optometrist specialising in corneal conditions are essential to monitor the progression of keratoconus and adapt the treatment strategy accordingly.

Early intervention and personalised care are vital to managing keratoconus effectively and preserving visual function.

Investing in keratoconus

We’re currently funding research looking into the genetic causes of keratoconus.

If successful, this study could inform the development of a genetic test to identify individuals at risk of keratoconus, improve patient outcomes, prevent vision loss and ultimately lead to new treatments.

We’re also funding a range of other research on keratoconus. You can read about some of our most recently funded projects below.

Projects we’re funding

Recent progress