A clinical trial to test a non-surgical treatment for keratoconus

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Mr David O’Brart
  • Institute: Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Region: London
  • Start date: June 2014
  • End Date: May 2015
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: Corneal & external


Keratoconus is a condition in which the front surface of the eye (the cornea) becomes thin in the centre and starts to bulge. A treatment (called ‘corneal cross-linking’) can stop keratoconus from getting worse. It’s a way of strengthening the chemical bonds in the cornea’s tissue.

Corneal cross-linking involves a clinician applying vitamin B2 drops to the cornea and then shining ultraviolet light on it. The problem is that surgeons first need to remove the cornea’s surface skin to get the vitamin B2 to the right place. This leaves the patient in great pain after the operation and makes infection and scarring possible. So the researchers want to find a way to deliver the drops to the cornea without removing its skin.

Vitamin B2 molecules can’t pass through the cornea’s outer layer very well on their own. But they do have an electric charge, which means they can be drawn though the outer layer if the researchers create an electric current across the cornea. It’s a technique that’s been used for several years for getting drugs through the skin to treat other conditions.

In this study the team are finding out how safe and effective is to deliver vitamin B2 using electric current compared to surgery. Participants will have electric current treatment in one eye and surgical treatment in the other, followed by sight tests and medical imaging of the cornea.

The results could lead to an end to painful surgery to treat keratoconus and a new non-invasive treatment that stops keratoconus before a corneal transplant is needed.