Eye drops are aiming to replace uncomfortable eyeball injections – how is it possible?

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. Scientists are estimating that by 2020 there will be about 200 million people worldwide with the condition. Its numbers are increasing due to the population ageing, but scientists at the University of Birmingham are one step closer to developing an eye drop that could change everything.

Age-related macular degeneration is now treated with eyeball injections, because there is no simpler way of reaching the retina. Image credit: Ralf Roletschek via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is currently treated by injections of sight-saving drugs into the eye, which, as you might imagine, is traumatic, painful and extremely uncomfortable. However, drug delivery through simple eye drops has never been possible. But now scientists are inching towards delivering the same drugs from these injections via drops – testing with rats already showed that the therapeutic effect is similar between both methods of delivery. Eyes of rats, of course, are different from humans, which means that animal testing is not over – now scientists want to test their method with larger eyes of rabbits and pigs. Even though we have to wait for the results of these tests, so far the research is showing that it is possible to deliver the medicine using this method to the retina of the larger mammalian eye.

Retina, of course, is the back of the eye, which is why it cannot be reached without injections. Scientists are relying on a cell-penetrating peptide, which can non-invasively penetrate through to the retina and deliver the drugs. The system is working as intended and, if everything goes according to plan, it would be a much more comfortable solution than eyeball injections. Now scientists are waiting for some confirmation of the technique through the animal testing and then, probably around the spring 2019, clinical trials can begin. Scientists say that this method is going to transform the treatment of the AMD.

People with AMD would be very happy if the eye drops get approved. Firstly, they could administer drugs by themselves at the comfort of their home. Secondly, they would be saving time and money without the need of regular hospital visits. Finally, they would be avoiding potential complications from the injections. And on top of that the healthcare system would be saving money as well. Dr Felicity de Cogan, leader of the study, said: “They will be transformative for patients who currently have to organise their lives around monthly clinic visits for uncomfortable intraocular injections, who will in the future have the convenience of self-administering their medical treatment”.

Can you imagine getting injections to your eyeballs every month and still going blind at the same time? It is truly horrible. Hopefully in the course of a couple of years this practice can be replaced with simple eye drops.

Source: University of Birmingham


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