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Ocular Surface Disease and Dry Eye Research

Annual Dry Eye CME Conference

Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021

This activity is a comprehensive educational initiative for ECPs whom manage and diagnose patients with dry eye. This dynamic learning experience will merge patient scenerios with evidence-based clinical concepts and audience interaction to provide memorable, relevant, and retainable educational ecounters.


Research Projects (Currently Recruiting)

  • Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes dry eye disease by reducing the aqueous component of tears. Sjögren’s also causes dry mouth and if left untreated, can cause organ damage and lymphoma. Promising studies have detected inflammatory biomarkers in the tear film in Sjögren’s patients. This study hopes to better understand the difference between Sjögren’s and non-Sjögren’s dry eye patients, and will use questionnaires, inflammatory markers, and cytology. The study is a one time visit.

    Eligible patients are 18 years or older with dry eye disease (with and without Sjögren’s). Exclusion criteria include history of prescription eye drops in the past 30 days, corneal or eyelid surgery in the past year, and infections that may cause ocular inflammation.

    For more information or to confirm your eligibility, contact: Shanna Van Court, ophthalmic technician and clinical research coordinator at or 410-502-4026.

  • Previous studies of dexamethasone eye drops show good results for dry eye disease. However, these drugs cause blurring and discomfort, and rely on frequent and consistent administration. The amount released per eye drop also disrupts the protective “mucin layer” of the eye. Dextenza is a plug in the lower tear duct, which slowly releases a low dose of dexamethasone for up to 30 days. The plug naturally degrades, and does not need to be removed.

    Eligible patients are adults with dry eyes who have 1 open punctum in each eye (there are 2 punctum in each eye that can be closed using plugs or permanent cautery). There will be a total of 5 visits over 42 days.

    For more information or to confirm your eligibility, contact: Shanna Van Court, ophthalmic technician and clinical research coordinator at or 410-502-4026.

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a newly identified, highly contagious RNA virus causing respiratory infectious disease, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Conjunctivitis has been reported as a rare finding of the disease, and preliminary studies showed that the virus RNA could be detected in ocular secretions using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays when conjunctivitis present. This study aims to estimate the proportion of SARS-CoV-2 associated conjunctivitis among patients with suspected viral conjunctivitis presented to the ophthalmology clinics of Wilmer Eye Institute during the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigators also aim to identify whether SARS-CoV-2 associated conjunctivitis is an isolated finding or an early sign of COVID-19.

    Patients age 18 years and older develop new red-eye complaints, as well as tearing, irritation, and swelling will be recruited. Swabs will be taken from eyes, nose, and throat to identify whether the eye condition was caused by this novel coronavirus.

    For more information or to confirm your eligibility, contact Sezen Karakus, M.D. at or 410-955-5080.

  • This study will employ sophisticated techniques to determine the ocular surface microbiome and its associations with the inflammatory response in patients with rosacea. This will help us understand underlying mechanisms and develop better-targeted treatment modalities.

    Patients age 18 years and older with ocular rosacea and healthy subjects with no rosacea will be recruited. Ocular surface microbiome will be investigated through a lid margin swab. Participants will be administered a standardized questionnaire reviewing their ocular and systemic health at baseline. All participants will undergo skin and lid margin assessment followed by dry eye testing.

    For more information or to confirm your eligibility, contact Sezen Karakus, M.D. at or 410-955-5080.

  • In collaboration with University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute, we are screening for Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that presents as dry eyes, dry mouth, and other systemic issues. We hope to develop and refine an algorithm for screening dry eye patients, and develop a de-identified data bank for future research.

    This is a one-time visit, lasting about an hour and a half. The testing consists of a questionnaire, blood draw, saliva spit test, and eye exam. You will be paid $50 for the first phase and a parking pass. A second phase, consisting of a lip biopsy, may be done with those suspected with Sjögren’s. The second phase is voluntary and you will be compensated an additional $150.

    Requirements include adults age 18 or older with dry eyes for at least 3 months. Patients must not have a history of Sjögren’s diagnosis or testing, LASIK or refractive surgery, organ transplant, smoking, contact lens use for 1 week, pregnancy, or glaucoma medication use.

    For more information or to confirm your eligibility, contact: Shanna Van Court, ophthalmic technician and clinical research coordinator at or 410-502-4026.


Research Projects (Not Recruiting)

  • Dr. Akpek is testing the clinical outcomes of an artificial cornea prototype (corneal keratoprosthesis) designed jointly by Johns Hopkins and W.L. Gore.

  • Cyclosporine, a commonly used ophthalmic prescription medication for dry eye syndrome, is being studied for its long-term clinical efficacy and side effects.

  • The autoantibodies SSA and SSB are traditionally used to test for Sjögren’s Syndrome in suspected patients. These tests can show a false-negative result in patients with early-onset Sjögren’s, whereas the novel autoantibodies (SP-1, CA6, PSP) have been shown to better detect early Sjögren’s. We are studying the longitudinal results of patients who received this test, and its clinical utility.

  • Numerous separate projects are observing the link between Sjögren’s Syndrome and other eye conditions, including but not limited to: cicatrizing conjunctivitis, sarcoidosis and other autoimmune conditions, and corneal complications.

  • Lifitegrast, an ophthalmic prescription medication for dry eye syndrome, was approved by the FDA in 2016. Our team is studying the intermediate clinical outcomes including efficacy, patient adherence, and side effects, in a large patient population.

  • With collaboration from the Jerome L. Green Sjögren’s Syndrome Center, we have established a database of Sjögren’s and non- Sjögren’s dry eye patients. We are tracking the longitudinal outcomes of these patients including their ocular surface status and disease, other ocular symptoms, and systemic involvement.

Selected Publications and Articles

  • Dr. Akpek featured in Bloomberg Businessweek article for her work with artificial corneas with the GORE-TEX Eye. Read more.
  • Dr. Karakus and Dr. Akpek show the impact of dry eye disease on reading rate in JHU Hub article. Read more.
  • Dr. Akpek discusses the common health conditions that can cause dry eyes in Bustle. Read more.
  • Dr. Akpek reviews more than 60 peer-reviewed publications regarding the treatments utilized in Sjögren’s Syndrome dry eye. Read more.
  • Dr. Akpek and Dr. Hessen investigate a group of patients with Sjogren’s syndrome; they report the ocular and systemic diseases experiences by these patients on follow-up. Read more.
  • Dr. Karakus and Dr. Akpek study the role and clinical correlation of using novel autoantibody testing for Sjögren’s Syndrome in patients with dry eye disease. Read more.

Research Team Members

  • Shanna Van Court, COA, B.S. - Clinical Research Project Manager and Ophthalmic Technician

    Shanna received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Salisbury University. She is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University pursuing a Master of Science degree in research administration and is an active member of the National Council of University Research Administrators. Shanna's research interests include establishing training and education initiatives for research and clinical staff, clinical studies on ocular surface treatment modalities, and conferences for ocular surface disease.

    shanna van court
  • Priya Mathews, M.D., M.P.H. - Research Associate

    Dr. Mathews obtained her medical and master's degrees in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She completed her ophthalmology residency at Columbia University Medical Center and is a recent graduate of the Cornea and External Diseases Fellowship at the Wilmer Eye Institute. Her research interests include: ocular surface disease, epidemiology of global corneal blindness, eyebanking, and developing new methods to promote corneal transplantation in areas with greatest need.

    Priya Mathews
  • David Cui, BA – Clinical Research Assistant

    David completed his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins in Biology and Public Health. He is a medical student at the Pennsylvania State University and a research assistant with the Ocular Surface and Dry Eye Clinic. His research interests include Sjögren’s and dry eye disease, medical education, and patient-reported outcomes.

    David Cui
  • Gavin Li, BS - Clinical Research Assistant

    Gavin received his Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University. He works as a research assistant with the Ocular Surface and Dry Eye Clinic during his bridge year to medical school. He is currently involved in projects related to artificial keratoprosthesis, Sjögren’s and dry eye disease, and clinical trials.

    Gavin Li
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