How does the immune system respond to fungal infection at the front of the eye?

Research details

  • Type of funding: Fight for Sight Small Grant Award
  • Grant Holder: Professor Harminder Dua
  • Institute: University of Nottingham
  • Region: East Midlands
  • Start date: January 2017
  • End Date: December 2018
  • Priority: Causes
  • Eye Category: Corneal & external


Corneal infections are a major worldwide cause of blindness in one eye. The cornea is the clear front surface of the eye. Fungal infections of the cornea (fungal keratitis) are rare in the UK but, while the numbers are still very small, it’s on the rise.

Fungal keratitis is hard to treat, but the body does produce its own defence proteins that can fight bacteria, fungi and viruses. They’re called ‘antimicrobial peptides’ or AMPs for short, and they are in clinical trials for treating a range of conditions.

The research team was the first to show that AMPs can be found on the surface of the eye. But we don’t know yet what happens in response to fungal infection.

Fungal keratitis is more common in tropical countries. In India, more than 1 in 3 cases of corneal infections are fungal. So the research group has teamed up with clinicians in India and in this project will be finding out which AMP genes are active in people with current fungal keratitis. They will compare that to people whose infection is completely cured and also to people with no history of this type of infection.

Results from the study will give us the basic background information we need before we can develop an AMP-based treatment for fungal keratitis.