Professor Nick Di Girolamo
Professor

Professor Nick Di Girolamo

1983-1985

BSc University of Sydney (conferred 1986)

 

1995-1997

PhD University of New South Wales (conferred 1998)

Title: Mechanisms of Tissue Destruction in Inflammatory Eye Disease

 

Medicine & Health
School of Medical Sciences

Professor Nick Di Girolamo is a research-focused academic leading an internationally recognised group whose mission is to restore sight in patients blinded from severe corneal disease. His expertise is the mammalian corneal, understanding how it develops and heals, and the diseases that develop when its stem cell reserves are depleted. His research program integrates basic sciences, revolutionary animal models, cutting-edge intravital imaging, novel image analysis modalities and world-first clinical trials using adult stem cells; the results of which have demonstrated improved eye health and vision in patients. Nick has received two decades of continuous funding from the NHMRC and other national and international funding agencies and has over 120 peer reviewed published articles.

Broad Research Areas:
Stem Cells, Ophthalmology, Transplantation, Pathology, Inflammation

Qualifications:
BSc, PhD

Society Memberships & Professional Activities (current):

Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)

NHMRC GRP Panels

ORIA Research Advisory Committee

International Society for Eye Research (ISER)

ARVO Ethics and Regulation in Human Research Committee (ERHR)

Editorial Board, The Ocular Surface

 

Specific Research Keywords:
Corneal Stem Cell Biology, Stem Cell Therapy, Ocular Surface Disease, Ultraviolet Radiation, Dry Eye Disease

Location
Wallace Wurth (East) Building (C27)
  • Journal articles | 2000
    Di Girolamo N; Wakefield D, 2000, 'In vitro and in vivo expression of interstitial collagenase/MMP-1 by human mast cells', Developmental Immunology, vol. 7, pp. 131 - 142, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2000/82708

Research Grants (2015-Current )

2015

UNSW Goldstar Award

Mapping the fate of corneal epithelial stem cells in health and disease

CIA-Di Girolamo N.

$40,000 total

 

2015

Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia

ORIA/Renensson Bequest Grant

Destiny of limbal epithelial stem cells in the normal cornea

CIA-Di Girolamo N.

$50,000 total

 

2015-2016

Kylaco PTY LTD

Spondyathropathies (spas) peptide vaccine

CIA-Marcal, CIB-Wakefiled, CIC-Di Girolamo

$200,000 total

 

2016-2019

NHMRC Project Grant APP1101078

Mapping the dynamics of corneal stem cells during aging and after wounding and transplantation

CIA-Di Girolamo, CIB-Watson, CIC-Wakefield

$548,903 total

 

2016

UNSW Goldstar Award

Methods to mark and graft corneal stem cells to treat blindness

CIA-Di Girolamo N.

$40,000 total

 

2016-2017

Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney

Improving clinical outcomes for patients receiving corneal stem cell grafts

CIA-Di Girolamo N.

$100,000

 

2016-2017

Sao Paolo State Foundation for Research Support

Culturing human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells on Nanoskin scaffolds for ocular surface reconstruction

Schellini, Viveiros, Rainho, da Silva, Ximenes, Padovani, Basmaji, de Olyveira, Di Girolamo

AUD $75,000

 

2017-2018

Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation

Development of a vaccine to treat HLA B27 spondylarthritis (SpA)

CIA-Wakefield, CIB-Di Girolamo, CIC-Tedla

AUD $50,000

 

2018

Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia

ORIA/Ivy May Stephenson Grant

A novel native scaffold for corneal epithelial regeneration

CIA-Di Girolamo N.

$49,500 total

 

2018-2019

Australia Research Council (ARC) Strategic Research Initiative Award

SR1101002 Stem Cell Australia: Transitioning into the future

Consortium of 65 CIs from 9 Australian Stakeholder Institutions and Partner Organizations (actual funds received $124,500)

$3,000,000 total

 

2019-2023      

NHMRC Project Grant APP1156944

Improving diagnostics and therapeutics for corneal blindness

CIA-Di Girolamo, CIB-Watson, CIC-Wakefield

$827,204 total

 

2019-2021

Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Accelerator Research Stem Cell Program

Stem cells for sight: building the pathway from the lab to the clinic

Watson, Di Girolamo, O’Connor, Munsie, Jamieson, Chow, Harkin

$425,000 total

 

2021-2022      

Diabetes Australia. A Novel treatment for type 1 diabetes that regenerates sensory nerves: using the eye as a model. 

CIA-Di Girolamo, CIB-Rye, CIC-Cochran, CID-Park

$60,000

 

2021-2024

NHMRC Project Grant GNT2004064

Preservation and generation of beta cells in T1D with novel mimetic peptides.

CIA-Rye, CIB-Cochran, CIC-Remaley, CID-Devalaraja, AI1-Di Girolamo, AI2-Thomas, AI3-Witting, AI4-Whan, AI5-Wilkins, AI6-Powell.

$1,096,055

 

2021-2024

US Department of Defense. Vision Research Program. Investigator Initiated Research Award.

VR200025 Sight-restoring therapy for corneal injuries sustained on the battlefield from

chemical warfare.

PI-Di Girolamo, Co-PI-Park, Co-PI-Carnell, Co-PI-Watson, Co-PI-Males

$1,006,300 total

 

 

  1. ABC’s New Inventors (02-06-09) Episode winner and People’s Choice.
  2. Finalist and winner (23-11-09) of “Less is More Award” awarded to an inventor whose invention impacts the community or environment.
  3. Finalist 2010 UNSW Inventor of the Year (Biomedical)
  4. First Prize, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology ARVO-Scientific Image Contest winner. 2016 Migrating Multicolored Corneal Epithelia
  5. School of Medical Sciences, Researcher of the Year (2019)
  6. ARVO-Fellow 2022

Corneal stem cell transplantation

One arm of our research program involves identifying, isolating and cultivating human and murine corneal epithelial stem cells. We believe this accomplishment will help us understand how the ocular surface is replenished and maintained in a healthy transparent state under normal physiological conditions and following trauma. Identifying markers for these rare but important cell is key, and to this end, we are performing cutting-edge single cell RNA sequencing experiments with appropriate analyses whilst conducting validation studies. We also hope to also identify better culture conditions and better carrier-scaffolds for these cells because the aim is to generate better quality, more effective stem cell grafts to treat patients with severe corneal diseases that result in blindness.

 

Developing diagnostic tools for patients with corneal disease

Another area we are interested in pursuing is to develop minimally invasive diagnostic and prognostic in-office tests for patients with corneal diseases. Here, we have focus on corneal nerves because we believe their features (e.g., density, length, thickness, branching, etc) will provide valuable ‘structural’ information about local (corneal) and systemic (whole body) health. To this end, we have developed an image segmentation algorithm for the auto-detection and computation of corneal nerve characteristics in the mouse and are poised to develop and measure the same nerve parameters using Machine Learning using clinical in vivo confocal microscopy images from patients.

 

Corneal Wound Healing

The third arm of our research program focuses on understanding the mechanisms of wound-healing in the cornea and to devise better therapies to treat patients with persistent corneal epithelial defects. Patients with such conditions do not require a cell or tissue replacement strategy so we are searching for corneal wound healing factors that can be dispensed to accelerate re-epithelialisation, thereby preventing infection and other complications. Notably, we have also identified uncommon and unreported non-tumourgenic transformation phenomena on the corneal surface, some of which are pathological and some that might be physiological, i.e., attempt to self-resolve. Our goal is to characterise these curiosities and potentially reverse them if they are pathological or indeed encourage them if they partake in regeneration. These investigations are carried out using pre-clinical animal models.

 

Dry Eye Disease

The fourth arm of our research program focuses on developing clinically relevant animal models of dry eye disease to understanding how this disease evolves, the ocular surface cell types involved in its pathogenesis and importantly developing treatment options that can be used on patients with this condition.

My Research Supervision

  1. Lina Sprgyote (PhD; UNSW, 2021- current); Role, Primary Supervisor
  2. Stanley Wu (Scientia PhD; UNSW, 2020-current): Role, Associate Supervisor

My Teaching

Phase I Medicine Undergraduate teaching MFAC1501