Westmead Hospital’s Associate Professor Chameen Samarawickrama awarded Kickstarter Grant for research on bacteriophages

Associate Professor Chameen Samarawickrama, a staff specialist within the Ophthalmology Department at Westmead Hospital, has recently been named the recipient of the Kickstarter Grant for Medical Research.

The grant, awarded for his project ‘Battle of the Bugs! The introduction of phage therapy in the treatment of infectious keratitis’, recognises Chameen’s cutting edge research into the use of bacteriophages in the treatment of severe corneal infections (keratitis).

The Pulse spoke with Chameen about his research and its impact on opthalmology.

“Phages are viruses that specifically target bacteria and are completely safe for human cells,” Chameen said.

“By using phages to augment antibiotics in the treatment of bacterial infections in the front of the eye, there is potential to trap the bacteria in a double pronged attack, which results in faster infection resolution and reduced damage to the eye. This means that patients have better final vision and may not need a corneal transplant to rehabilitee vision.

Phages have the potential to lead to rapid infection control without the risks of resistance development, ultimately leading to better vision and a reduced need for corneal transplants for visual rehabilitation.

“This work has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of keratitis. Phages are completely safe for humans and when used in conjunction with antibiotics, have the potential to rapidly control severe infections.

This means faster healing, better vision, reduced rates of corneal transplants and potentially reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance formation in the long term.

Chameen says his goal is to demonstrate faster infection control, reduced scarring and better final vision.

“If this can consistently be seen, it will change the way infectious keratitis is managed,” he said.

Chameen’s time at Westmead Hospital has seen impressive growth from his internship stage to eventual Staff Specialist in the Ophthamology Department.

Westmead Hospital kicked off my research career with the Clancey-Donald Fellowship, which then morphed into a PhD.