Researchers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) have created a hydrogel that could one day be made into a contact lens to more effectively treat corneal melting, a significant cause of blindness world-wide.
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 even 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.
“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 blood stream 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 differently because it is localised, 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.”