Researchers at the University of Ottawa have developed a light-activated hydrogel treatment for corneal disease. Many of the people who suffer from corneal disease, which can include corneal thinning, are not suitable for a corneal transplant, and obtaining transplants is a challenge for those who are. This technology is intended to assist with thickening and reshaping the cornea, and it may pave the way for an alternative to transplants in the future.
The biomaterial is made using glycosaminoglycans, which are polymers that occur naturally in the body, and short peptides. Following injection into a surgically created pocket in the cornea, the liquid gel is exposed to blue light for a few minutes, which stimulates it to change to a semisolid bolus that can thicken, support, and reshape the cornea.
While corneal disease is a reality for millions, for most, a corneal transplant is not an option, despite transplants being the gold-standard treatment for corneal diseases such as keratoconus, which results in corneal thinning and poor vision. There is a shortage of corneal donors, and many patients are not suitable for a transplant in any case. Consequently, researchers are working hard to develop new approaches that do not rely on a transplant.
Biomaterials are an attractive option here, with the potential to thicken, support, and reshape thinning corneas. These researchers have developed a clever mechanism to deliver a liquid biomaterial treatment and then cure it in place using light to ensure that it stays where required and provides the required support for the cornea over time.
“Our technology is a leap in the field of corneal repair,” said Emilio Alarcon, a researcher involved in the study. “We are confident this could become a practical solution to treat patients living with diseases that negatively impact corneal shape and geometry, including keratoconus.”
The gel requires a blue light to cure it in place, but this light is not strong enough to cause damage to the eye. So far, in tests with rats, the hydrogel resided in place for a significant period without causing inflammation or other adverse effects.
“Our material was engineered to harvest the blue light energy to trigger the on-the-spot assembling of the material into a cornea-like structure. Our cumulative data indicates that the materials are non-toxic and remain for several weeks in an animal model. We anticipate our material will remain stable and be non-toxic in human corneas,” said Alarcon. “We had to engineer each part of the components involved in the technology, from the light source to the molecules used in the study. The technology was developed to be clinically translatable, meaning all components must be designed to be ultimately manufacturable following strict standards for sterility.”
Study in journal Advanced Functional Materials: Low Energy Blue Pulsed Light-Activated Injectable Materials for Restoring Thinning Corneas
Via: University of Ottawa