Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients may soon be able to have their condition treated with eye drops thanks to a prestigious research grant.
Funding of almost £100,000 from the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust will support the Ulster University AMD research programme, led by pharmaceutics lecturer Dr Bridgeen Callan.
Dr Callan told OT that the research, which would be undertaken by a postdoctoral fellow, would still utilise the current wet AMD medication, anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs.
She added: “Unfortunately the only mechanism to get it into the back of the eye is an injection. Patients must travel to the clinic for the procedure. It can be quite disturbing … Even with antiseptics, it does have complications and can potentially lead to infections.”
Dr Callan emphasised that the back of the eye was a tricky spot to deliver drugs to. Medication in an eye drop must avoid being washed away by a patient’s tears and blinking reflex, then has to make it through physical barriers, such as the cornea.
On a microscopic level, it was also hard to get any highly charged, soluble medication into a cell. “It’s quite a big task,” she said.
Dr Callan’s idea to solve this problem – and offer hope to the estimated 196 million people worldwide expected to have AMD by 2020 – was to create a ‘polymersome’, a tiny sphere made of polymers that is modelled on the body’s own cellular transport system.
“I can tailor them specifically to what I want them to have, such as no charge and some characteristics that help with transport.”
The trust’s funding would support the project for two years, and by this stage Dr Callan hopes to have a frontrunner polymersome that could demonstrably reach the back of the eye. Human trials would then follow.
She highlighted her delight in receiving the funding, concluding: “Without [the trust’s] financial support this work couldn’t be undertaken.”
Image credit: Ulster University