Ocular Diseases Research Group

About us

The group is interested in diseases that develop in the anterior segment for the eye including those that arise on the surface of the cornea because of deficiency in stem cells, environmental insults, from infection or autoimmunity. Our overarching goal is to determine the triggering factors and the mechanisms by which they develop. It is hoped that this information will provide vital clues for devising novel therapeutic strategies. Our research is conducted using patient-derived and cadaveric donor specimens including tissue, blood, DNA and cells. Transgenic animal and cell culture models complement our human tissue-based investigations. Our investigation uses molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches as well as cutting-edge imaging and microscopy platforms.

Current Projects

  • Ocular stem cell therapy for blinding corneal disease
  • How the mammalian cornea develops: embryogenesis
  • Factors that heal corneal wounds
  • Pathogenesis of ultraviolet light-induced ocular surface disease
  • Developing models of dry eye disease



  • Professor Silvana Schellini, Botucatu School of Medicine, State University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Professor James Jester, University of California, Irvine, USA
  • Dr Helen Makarenkova, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA
  • Professor Stephanie Watson, Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney
  • Dr John Male, Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney
  • A/Professor Guy Lyons, Dermatology, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney

Resources & Tools

Di Girolamo N, Bobba S, Raviraj V, Delic N, Slapetova I, Nicovich PR, Halliday GM, Wakefield D, Whan R, Lyons JG. Tracing the fate of limbal epithelial progenitor cells in the murine cornea. Stem Cells. 2015;33:157-169.

Samarawickrama C, Di Girolamo N, Cherepanoff S, Benger R, Watson S. Unusual limbal lesion in neurofibromatosis type 1.Cornea. 2015;34:347-349.

Bobba S, Chow S, Watson S, Di Girolamo N. Clinical outcomes of xeno-free expansion and transplantation of autologous ocular surface epithelial stem cells via contact lens delivery: a prospective case series. Stem Cell Res Therapy. 2015;6:23.

Di Girolamo N.Moving epithelia: Tracking the fate of mammalian limbal epithelial stem cells. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2015;48:203-225.

Gupta B, Mai, K, Lowe SB, Wakefield D, Di Girolamo N, Gaus K, Reece PJ, Gooding JJ. Ultrasensitive and specific measurement of protease activity using functionalized photonic crystals. Anal Chem. 2015;87:9946-9953.

Bobba S, Watson S, Di Girolamo N.Contact lens delivery of stem cells for restoring the ocular surface. (Chapter 9) In Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine in Ophthalmology. 2nd Edition. pp 219-239. Eds Traian Chirila and Damian Harkin. Woodhead Publishing, Sydney, 2016 ISBN9781845694432.

Bobba S, Di Girolamo N. Contact lenses: a delivery device for stem cells to treat corneal blindness. Optom Vis Sci. 2016;93:412-418.

Jones L, Chauhan A, Di Girolamo N, Sheedy J, Smith E. Expert views on innovative future uses for contact lenses. Optom Vis Sci. 2016;93:328-335.

Richardson A, Wakefield D, Di Girolamo N. Fate Mapping Corneal Epithelia. Ocul Surf. 2016;14:82-99.

Di Girolamo N, Chow S, Richardson A, Wakefield D. Contamination of primary human corneal epithelial cells with an SV40-transformed human corneal epithelial cell line: a lesson for cell biologist. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2016;57:611-616.


Grants & Funding

The group has been continuously funded by peer reviewed category 1 project grants from the NHMRC and Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia (ORIA) for over two decades. Prof Di Girolamo’s new technique for transplanting stem cells into patients with corneal blindness was featured on the ABC’s New Inventors program in 2010 and the ABC’s Catalyst program in 2011.

  1. NHMRC Project Grant. (2016-2019) Di Girolamo, Watson, Wakefield
  2. Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. (2016-2017) Di Girolamo
  3. Sao Paolo State Foundation. (2016-2017) Schellini, Viveiros, Rainho, da Silva, Ximenes, Padovani, Basmaji, de Olyveira, Di Girolamo


Mr Alexander Richardson

PhD student



Mr Richard Zhang

PhD student



Ms Jessica Mazalo

Honours student