Hope in sight for corneal burns patients

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on July 15, 2019

There is hope for victims of acid attacks or industrial accidents, who have suffered chemical damage to the eye tissue and face severe visual impairment.

A tissue softening enzyme called Collagenase, which triggers the patient’s own stem cells to repair the damage and restore eye sight, is going for humans trial.

Researchers from the Newcastle University, UK, have demonstrated that applying Collagenase to the cornea softens the underlying tissue, allowing the stem cells present there to repair the damage, says the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), Hyderabad.

The formulation has been approved for related therapeutic applications by both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicine Agency. Realising its potential in the Indian context, where the problems are high, LVPEI has taken up the ‘first in man trial’.

‘First in man trial’

The trial involving 30 patients is funded by the Ulverscroft Foundation, a UK charity that support organisations helping the visually impaired. Founded in 1973, the charity also supports research into the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, and funds medical equipment and facilities.

Sayan Basu, Director for the Centre for Ocular Regeneration, said: “Suitable participants for the trial will be selected by an assessment team at the Institute after rigorous medical and ethical approval, and results from the trial are expected in 2021,”

“If the trial is successful, it can save time and money in treating alkali burn patients, without the need for long- term follow-up and the use of limbal transplantation. Recovery too can be faster for the patient,” said Vivek Singh, the lead scientist from LVPEI.

Every year, about two million people worldwide become blind due to corneal trauma, with one in five cases caused by chemical burns to the eye. The tissue-softening enzyme Collagenase can prevent loss of corneal stem cells following an injury, and help patients from losing their sight. It offers hope to almost 5,00,000 people a year who lose their sight due to chemical burns including acid attacks, the Institute said.

According to CheConnon, Director of the study and leader of the Tissue Engineering lab at Newcastle University, “The simplicity and relative low cost of this therapy compared to existing approaches in which stem cells have to be transplanted is a game-changer. It greatly expands the number of potential patients being treated for corneal burns across the world, and may well have applications in other diseases.”

Researchers Ricardo Gouveia and team at the University have previously recreated the effects of chemical burns and treated the wounded, stiffened areas of the cornea using small and localised doses of Collagenase. The enzyme made the area once again pliable and able to support the patient’s own stem cells and promote healing, they claimed.

Published on July 15, 2019

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