NH&MRC Early Career Fellowship Awarded to Dr Jerome Ozkan

Dr Jerome Ozkan has been successful in his application for a National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellowship, being granted a four-year Peter Doherty Biomedical Fellowship to commence in 2016. Dr Ozkan has previously worked in clinical trials research and as an Associate Lecturer at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW.

Unlike other regions of the body, the ocular surface was thought to be essentially sterile and only sporadically colonised by microbes due to the potent antimicrobial properties of the tear film and the mechanical action of the lids. Modern DNA techniques have shown the existence of a significantly more diverse bacterial population on the ocular surface. There is not yet a clear identification of a core and transient ocular microbiome.

This research aims to understand what constitutes the core and transient ocular microbiome, how microbial communities change over time and over the eye’s microhabitats (conjunctiva, lids margins, surface cells/crypts), the effect of pharmaceutical agents (including antibiotics) on its composition and how microbial communities change during disease development. The research project will include Professor Mark Willcox at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW a leading researcher in the field of ocular microbiology and dry eye research, Professor Minas Coroneo, the Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, UNSW and The Prince of Wales Hospital, who has extensive experience in the treatment of cataract, pterygium and dry eye and Associate Professor Torsten Thomas at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, UNSW an expert in microbiology and bioinformatics with extensive experience in the 16S ribosomal RNA-based bacterial community analysis and metagenomics.

The initial phase of the research will assess the microbial community characteristics of healthy eyes not influenced by contact lenses or antibiotics. The second phase of the research will investigate bacterial colonisation over a range of biogeographical regions of the ocular surface. The final phase of the research will assess compositional changes in the ocular microbiota caused by prolonged prophylactic antibiotic therapy, commonly employed in successful cataract surgery, to determine whether these changes are correlated with development of post-operative dry eye syndrome.