Corneal melting, also known as Keratolysis, is an incurable eye disease that causes a patient's cornea to melt. The disorder can be triggered by a variety of causes including autoimmune diseases or surgical procedures such as cataract removals.
A potential cure
What causes the melting is uncontrolled production of specific zinc-dependent enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Now, researchers at the University of New Hampshire may have developed a potential cure for the devastating disease.
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Their new hydrogel can deactivate MMP enzymes by removing the zinc ions. Better yet, the researchers state the hydrogel could one day be made into a contact lens to help treat the disease locally.
"Most of the current MMP inhibitors used to treat this condition work by binding to the zinc ions within the MMPs," said Kyung Jae Jeong, assistant professor of chemical engineering at UNH.
"However, once injected into the body, the MMP inhibitors travel through the bloodstream and entire body and can cause severe side effects because they are binding with and deactivating the zinc ions in other tissue. Our hydrogel works entirely different because it is localized, just in the eye, and deactivates MMPs by eliminating the zinc ions from the cornea. And since it would be a contact lens, if there were any issues, the patient would simply remove it."
The novel hydrogel deactivates MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9. These three enzymes are the key players in corneal melting.
In vitro and ex vivo tests
So far, experiments have been done in vitro and ex vivo. These have provided evidence that the new hydrogel could be a viable method for treating corneal melting.
Now, researchers are looking into turning the hydrogel into a contact lens. This would allow the disease to be treated locally without incurring any side effects elsewhere.
UNHInnovation has filed a pending patent, and the study has recently been published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.