In profile: Binod Rayamajhee, PhD student

Water is inextricably linked to human health in many ways, but it’s not just hand-washing or the consumption of water that has human health implications. Water—even the ‘clean’ kind that is suitable for drinking—can contain bugs that can make their way into our bodies through unexpected means, with potentially devastating consequences.

In the case of ocular health, water has been linked to the very damaging corneal infection, Acanthamoeba keratitis. The vision-threatening ocular disease occurs predominantly in contact lens wearers due to lenses mixing with water and cases are increasing in many countries including the UK, India, and USA.

The recent spikes in cases of Acanthamoeba keratitis caught the attention of Binod Rayamajhee who is undertaking his PhD with the UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science. He is using cutting-edge molecular techniques to investigate keratitis causing Acanthamoeba, which can lead to blindness and, in some cases, eye removal.

Binod observes trophozoites and cyst of Acanthamoeba species. Credit: Shyam Kumar Mishra

“Using state-of-the-art microbiome techniques, my study will determine the pathogenic bugs residing in clinical and environmental isolates of Acanthomoeba and examine its effect on the course of corneal infection,” says Binod.

Aggressive marketing has seen more and more people turn to contact lenses for medical or cosmetic reasons or for convenience. They are pitched as a method to slow down the progression of short-sightedness and as a convenient way to engage in sporting activities without having to use glasses. This means that many people, including young children and other vulnerable groups, are at risk of contracting Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Binod has a Master in Medical Microbiology from Tribhuvan University, Nepal, so his background is well aligned to investigate the mysterious amoeba, particularly its vectorial role in dissemination of pathogenic bugs.

He says that early detection of Acanthamoeba keratitis and targeted, timely treatment can save the sight of patients and retain their quality of life.

“The management of Acanthamoeba keratitis patients is difficult, partly due to delays in diagnosis and partly due to the poor treatment options available. This can often lead to substantial vision loss, even blindness, and surgical interventions are needed to control the disease in 30% of patients,” says Binod.

The overarching hypothesis of Binod’s research is that intracellular microbes—pathogenic bugs that reside in amoeba cells—enhance  the incidence and effects associated with Acanthamoeba keratitis, and combination treatment strategies that target both the amoeba and prokaryotes or viruses will improve the outcomes of corneal infection.

“Intracellular bacteria in clinical and environmental isolates of Acanthamoeba species can cause co-infection and/or render the corneal infection more pathogenic, so it is critical to understand the microbiome that resides within Acanthamoeba species. Doing so could be an important stepping stone for better diagnosis and treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis,” says Binod.

I believe sight is the fundamental human right of a person and I feel fortunate to have joined the team fighting to ‘save sight'

Binod Rayamajhee

Since his school days, Binod has repeatedly heard the saying that ‘health science is the light of life’. It always occupied a part of his mind, inspiring his academic career, and he developed a profound interest in Biomedical Science and Research after his high school education.

“I believe sight is the fundamental human right of a person and I feel fortunate to have joined the team fighting to ‘save sight’, led by world-leading experts Dr Nicole Carnt and Prof Mark Willcox of UNSW Sydney, and Prof Fiona L. Henriquez  from the Infection and Microbiology Research Group at the University of the West of Scotland,” says Binod.

Binod grew up in Nepal and dreamed of pursuing a PhD at a world class university like UNSW.

“I was aware of the global reputation of UNSW in biomedical research and innovation and was delighted to receive the opportunity to complete my research here. It has been just six months of my PhD but it has been such a rewarding journey so far. I’m very excited to advance my research-oriented learning skills and critical thinking, and there are plenty of resources and facilities at UNSW to help me do so.”

After his PhD, Binod hopes to continue research focused on infectious diseases to reduce the ongoing global emcumbrance of diverse infectious diseases.

“I believe that my education and training at UNSW Sydney will help me to tackle the ongoing burden of infectious keratitis and other diseases in Australia and beyond.”   

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