Corneal melting is a condition that is a significant cause for blindness worldwide. The incurable eye disease can be initiated by a number of different causes such as autoimmune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, or Stevens-Johnson syndrome), chemical burns, or some surgical procedures (like LASIK and cataract procedures). The patient’s cornea melts due to the uncontrolled production of certain zinc-dependent enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) by the patient’s immune cells in the cornea. To help prevent this, a new hydrogel was developed that deactivates those enzymes by removing the zinc ions.
Most of the current MMP inhibitors used to treat this condition work by binding to the zinc ions within the MMPs; however, once injected into the body, the MMP inhibitors travel through the blood stream and entire body and can cause severe side effects because they are binding with and deactivating the zinc ions in other tissue. The hydrogel is localized in the eye and deactivates MMPs by eliminating the zinc ions from the cornea. When made into a contact lens, if there were any issues, the patient could simply remove it.
The research was done in vitro and ex vivo (on extracted cornea tissue) and suggests that the new hydrogel could be a viable therapeutic option for treating corneal melting. The end goal is to make the hydrogel into a contact lens that would allow more localized treatment of the eye and avoid side effects in the rest of the body.