There is a lot of talk and excitement recently about the microbiome. Many people have heard about the benefits of healthy bacteria in the gut. Some may have even tried to improve the health of these bacteria through probiotics or other dietary interventions. Although the gut is the area which people are most closely associated with the microbiome, microbes also live on the skin and even on the surface of the eyes.
In any area of the body, when the microbiome is thrown out of balance, health concerns may emerge. For that reason, understanding the role of bacteria living on the eye could help to treat common eye conditions.
Conditions as diverse as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity have been linked to the microbiome. There is also evidence that the microbiome has an effect on our brains and is related to conditions like depression. It is easy to see that the microbes living on the eye might contribute to good or poor health in a similar way.
In studying the eyes microbiome, researchers found that age, ethnicity, geographic region, and state of disease all influenced the bacteria living on the eye. When in balance, these bacteria protect the eye. This benefit has caused scientists to wonder how these microbes can be manipulated to create innovative therapies for various eye conditions. One day it may be common to treat disorders like dry eye disease, corneal scarring, and syndrome through the exploitation of the eyes natural environment.
To develop such therapies, researchers must first figure out how bacteria colonize the eye. The Campbell Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh currently houses one of the most extensive collections of ocular bacteria. Researchers there hope to use this bacterial library to identify how microbes colonize the surface of the eye.
The study again brings into question the widespread use of antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bacteria.
Although the field is newly developing, researchers hope to someday create eye drops that work with the eyes microbiology. As far as how effective these endeavors will be, we will just have to wait and see.