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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute Finds Giant Viruses Present in Contaminated Contact Lens Cases

Posted: 05.12.2017

Scientists at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute have found that giant viruses, a new class of viruses, are present in contaminated contact lenses of patients with eye infections. These very large viruses are as big as bacteria and live inside amoeba that can caue infections of the cornea – the clear transparent front of the eye. Research will continue to explore the role of these new viruses and how they affect the eyes and vision.

Sayed-Ahmed Ibrahim, M.D., presented his research titled: Prevalence and Diversity of Giant Viruses Among Contaminated Contact Lens Cases, at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. Members of the Annual Meeting Program Committee identified Ibrahim’s abstract as representing the newest and most innovative research being conducted in microbiology today.

“Giant viruses are a relatively new class of viruses that have been discovered in the environment growing in free living amoeba,” said Ibrahim. “The first giant virus was thought to be a bacterium, due to its large size. This virus was name Mimivirus, as it mimicked bacteria in appearance under a microscope. They have also been called by the contraction “girus”.

“Mimivirus had been isolated from several human samples, including the contact lens case of a patient with a cornea infection, and sputum samples from patients with pneumonia, “ added Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chairman of Bascom Palmer and medical director of Bascom Palmer’s Ocular Microbiology Laboratory where the research took place. “Our purpose was to screen contact lens cases of patients with cornea infections for the presence of giant viruses and their proteins. Our researchers documented the presence of proteins from a variety of giant viruses, including mimiviridae, pandoraviridae, marseilles viruses and pithoviruses. The role of these viruses in amoeba and ocular infections is still to be determined.”

“Our ocular microbiology laboratory is a unique global resource for identifying dangerous infectious agents in the cornea, retina, vitreal fluid and other tissues. It serves as a resource for surveillance mechanisms for many unusual diseases resulting from infectious organisms,” said Darlene Miller, D.H.S.C. research associate professor of ophthalmology, scientific director of the laboratory and co-author of the giant virus study.

Ibrahim, who received his medical degree with highest grade and honors from Alexandria University in Egypt, is one of three students selected into the inaugural class of Bascom Palmer’s international Master of Science degree program in Vision Science and Investigative Ophthalmology (MVSIO). “Candidates in the MVSIO program were selected based upon their ability to define a clinically- related scientific problem, and their ability to innovate and recognize the translational potential of discoveries,” said Sanjoy K. Bhattacharya, M.Tech, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology, graduate program director of the MVSIO program, and co-author of the study.

Three other Bascom Palmer investigators were co-authors of the study: Jorge Maestre-Mesas, M.D., Ph.D, a molecular biology expert, Edith Perez, and Maria del Carmen Piqueras.