UC Davis ophthalmologist to examine ancient Chilean mummy eyes

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Over the next week, UC Davis ophthalmologist William Lloyd will dissect and examine the eyes of two North Chilean mummies for evidence of various diseases and medical conditions. One of the eyes belonged to a boy who was 2 years old when he died 1,000 years ago, and the other is from a female, who was approximately 23 years old when she died 750 years ago.

"The opportunity to analyze two pre-Columbian era mummy eyes is exciting and fascinating," said Lloyd, an accomplished physician, researcher, professor, author and expert in comparative ophthalmology, which involves the study of the eye across species. Lloyd holds joint appointments in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, and Pathology at the UC Davis School of Medicine. "By analyzing these eyes, we hope to determine if their pathology suggests any so-called modern day diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure."

It all began when Huck Holz, chief resident in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, read an article about the founder of modern paleopathology, Arthur Aufderheide, in the May 16 issue of the New Yorker magazine. Paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases, has taken Aufderheide around the globe, salvaging mummies' organs and tissues in various stages of decomposition. The thin tissues that make up the eye allow it to dehydrate quickly and, because moisture causes decay, most mummies are found with well-preserved eyes.

In the New Yorker article, Aufderheide said that he's been saving the eyes for the right investigator, someone with the expertise and the commitment to examine them thoroughly. Holz and Lloyd convinced Auferheide that they were the researchers he'd been waiting for.

During the week of Oct. 17, Lloyd will inspect and examine the eyes. The process involves rehydrating the eyes and optical nerves, preparing the tissues for chemical processing, embedding the tissues in paraffin, slicing the specimens for

Contact: Kelly Gastman
University of California, Davis - Health System

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