Investigators receive grant to develop alternative to treat eye disease

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A team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati's Department of Chemistry and Department of Ophthalmology, in collaboration with researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Ohio State University, have received a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute to develop a drug delivery system that is more efficient and longer lasting than conventional eye injections.

For many patients, getting poked in eye with a sharp objects is a thought that nightmares are made of, but researchers are hoping to find a gentler way to treat eye diseases that currently require injections.

Ophthalmologists must treat a large number of patients with posterior eye diseases, including back-of-the-eye diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. These patients undergo eye injections through the wall of the eye for treatment on a regular basis.

"Direct injections of medications into the eye are not only an unpleasant experience but repeated injections can lead to severe adverse effects to the eye, which can be sight-threatening," Kevin Li, a University of Cincinnati pharmaceutical scientist who is leading the research study of an alternative treatment for posterior eye diseases, said in a statement.

Li and colleagues in UC's Department of Chemistry and Department of Ophthalmology, in collaboration with researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Ohio State University, have received a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute to develop a drug delivery system that is more efficient and longer lasting than conventional eye injections.

According to a release, the team is working to develop an ocular drug delivery system based on RNA nanotechnology to deliver therapeutics into the eye that do not require an eye puncture but are instead injected under one of the layers called conjunctiva around the eye. This method will create a reservoir for the medications to treat the disease over time.

RNA-based technology has been increasingly used for the development of therapeutics and vaccines. According to investagiors, the success of this strategy requires the development of improved analytical methodology for effective monitoring of the drug status.

"It will be a great benefit to the public if an effective drug delivery system can replace repeated intravitreal injections and allow effective nucleotide-based drug delivery for the treatments of these diseases," Li, a professor in UC's James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy, said in the statement.

Currently, the only effective treatments for these eye diseases are direct eye injections of medications.

"This technique would likely find an application in children as well, as they would have difficulty cooperating with a direct injection while awake, and it is desirable to avoid frequent anesthesias for repeated injections," Michael Yang, an ophthalmologist at Cincinnati Children's, said in a statement.

Li pointed out that the injections, in addition to the unpleasant experience and adverse effects, "are also time-consuming and increase health care costs because the treatment must be delivered by a specialist, who is doing a minor surgery."

Therefore, Li concluded in the statement, a more effective method of drug delivery and therapy is advantageous in the treatments of these sight-threatening diseases.

The team of investigators includes UC researchers Balasubrahmanyam Addepalli, PhD, Department of Chemistry, and Winston Kao, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology; Michael Yang, MD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and Peixuan Guo, PhD, College of Pharmacy at the Ohio State University.