Research Highlight

Savitri Sharma

Dr Savitri Sharma, MD, FAMS

Designation: Director, Laboratory Services-LVPEI network

Dr Savitri Sharma, MD, FAMS, is the Director, Laboratory Services of the network of LVPEI in India. An alumnus of VSS Medical College, Burla, Sambalpur, Odisha (MBBS) and JIPMER, Pondicherry (MD), she joined LVPEI in 1991. She is the recipient of several grants from DBT, CSIR and DST. She has been the Editor in chief of Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology (IJMM) and the President of Indian Association of Medical Microbiologists (IAMM) in 2008-9 and the President of Society for Indian Human and Animal Mycologists (SIHAM) in 2012-14. She has received 22 awards including the senior achievement award of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. She has authored a book on Ocular Microbiology, 17 book chapters, 235 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has guided several PhD students.

When I joined LVPEI, my first assignment was to start the microbiology diagnostic laboratory. A facility to process clinical samples from patients with corneal infections was then set up with the support from Natco Pharma and Mr L D Jhaveri. This helped in diagnosing bacterial fungal and parasitic corneal infections.

Research environment was built up in collaboration with the then Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit (CCLRU) of Sydney headed by Prof Brien A Holden. Projects were planned to answer a number of research questions related to inflammation and infection due to contact lens wear. Simultaneously, experience with patient samples and impact of specific diagnosis in the management of corneal infections served as the motivation to delve in to relevant research projects. Microsporidia, as a cause of epidemic keatoconjunctivitis, was reported in India for the first time from our laboratory.

Landmark contributions have been made in the field of Acanthamobeakeratitis, Microsporidial keratoconjunctivitis, Keratitis caused by Nocardia, Bacillus, Atypical mycobacteria etc.

Competitive grants were received from various government sources and international sources. Over the years to take research to a higher level, facilities to work on viruses and molecular diagnostic methods were added. Several qualified and trained individuals (microbiologists, optometrists, PhD students and technologists) have contributed to the work that has culminated in publication of 235 articles in peer reviewed journals and several presentations and awards.

Corneal diseases are a major cause of blindness worldwide, of which corneal infections are the most common cause of blindness. One of the most challenging tasks faced by an ophthalmologist is to overcome antibiotic (antifungal) resistance in ocular pathogenic fungi, which are responsible for nearly half of the total corneal ulcers. Our laboratory is interested in characterizing Fusarium and Candida species (important causes of fungal infections worldwide) isolated from ocular infections.

The human eye surface microbiome study will help to unravel and understand ocular health in the context of how gut microbiome changes could alter host–microbiome interactions to mitigate diseases.

Using molecular methods, we recently recognized a corneal pathogen Pythium insidiosum that was probably lurking around earlier unrecognized. Through our research we have now mastered a simple laboratory method to recognize this organism and the condition is increasingly being diagnosed in our laboratory.

As mentioned earlier, corneal infections to a great extend are responsible for corneal blindness in India. Apart from being engaged in providing a specific diagnosis that facilitates specific treatment thus ensuring better clinical outcome, our research efforts continue to improve diagnostic tests, unravel pathogenesis of organisms involved and help select drugs that can counter infection and improve outcome.

The major research undertakings globally involve use of newer molecular techniques to understand the profile of organisms associated with corneal infections. Using conventional culture techniques, the yield of organisms is limited. The other thrust area is development of point of care diagnostic tests, i.e., tests that would provide diagnosis in the clinic without having to seek laboratory help. Thirdly, research to prevent increase in antibiotic resistance and treatment alternatives to antibiotics is the need of the hour./p>

My laboratory is futuristic in terms of projects aimed at different aspects of eye infections. I would like to see the impact of molecular diagnosis on patient treatment and outcome. While much has improved in terms of technology, it remains to be evaluated whether such advancements go hand in hand with patient benefit. Our project using real time PCR for the diagnosis of HSV keratitis is one such project. Prognostic value of these tests needs to be determined.

For more information about the Current Research Projects in Microbiology please click here

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