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Pancakes and glaucoma. A tasty insight into a blinding disease


Researchers at University College London have turned to a basic cooking staple, the pancake, to glean insights into possible new treatments for the disease that is often called the sneak thief of sight.

The connection may not be immediately apparent to most of us but it relates to how water and air escape from batter mixtures. It seems there are similarities between the layers of the eye and pancake batter as it heats.

Glaucoma is a condition caused by a build-up of liquid in the eye and any subsequent visual impairment is irreversible. It is hoped that better understanding the properties of a pancake will improve surgical methods for treating the disease.

Researchers examined a range of pancakes of differing thicknesses and diameters and discovered the thinner and smaller the pancake, the more evenly the surface cooks. This is because water vapour is released more smoothly, avoiding the “craters” that form in thicker pancakes when water is trapped.

Cooking conditions were kept constant while observing the behaviour of steam as each pancake firmed up. Thicker batters formed larger, irregular pockets of steam on the bottom. Thinner batters allowed a more even release of steam.

Renowned ophthalmologist, Sir Peng Khaw, a co-author of the research paper said treatment of glaucoma is dependent on mastering surgical techniques that can best alleviate the pressure caused by trapped water vapour in the eye.

“To treat this, surgeons create an escape route for the fluid by carefully cutting the flexible sheets of the sclera,” he said. “We are improving this technique by working with engineers and mathematicians. It’s a wonderful example of how the science of everyday activities can help us with the medical treatments of the future.”

Last updated: November 29, 2018

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