Q&A: Professor Liam Grover

The University of Birmingham scientist talks with OT  about the development of a pioneering gel for the treatment of microbial keratitis


University of Birmingham researchers have developed a gel that helps to promote scarless healing by creating a “therapeutic bandage” on the eye. Professor Liam Grover speaks with OT about the development of the promising new treatment.

Can you tell OT about the protein used in the gel?

Decorin has been known to prevent fibrosis in a number of tissues for quite a while now but it has not been available in a form that allows people to use it clinically. That has changed recently, but the half-life is still reasonably short, which means that it doesn’t hang around very long once you inject it into the body. What we did is that we came up with a material that allowed us to deliver it locally and then hold it on the surface for longer than what would be possible with a normal eye drop.

What is the aim of this research?

In the shorter term, we would like to demonstrate that we can improve on the current standard of care for microbial keratitis. In the longer term, it would be nice to see whether we can actually develop an eye drop to resolve scarring.

Once someone presents with microbial keratitis, they can have a bad outcome if they are not treated quickly enough. We would like to make something that can be more widely used immediately following corneal abrasion.

Whether that incorporates decorin or not is a different matter. Decorin is quite expensive which means that you couldn’t use this as an eye drop for every single patient who had a scrape to the surface of their eye.

One of the things that we are most hopeful about is that just the gel on its own without decorin combined with the current standard of care might have a significant and beneficial effect for patients who are at high risk of microbial keratitis.

What is next for the project?

We are going into a clinical trial with 30 microbial keratitis patients using the gel with decorin in the last part of this year or the first part of next year. We have also been funded by the National Institute for Health Research to conduct a trial at the end of this year using the eye drop on its own as a stabilising serum on the eye to help people with dry eye.

Clinicians are probably tired of hearing about basic science developments that don’t ever quite come into the clinic, but I think in this case we have something that really has a defined and rapid pathway into the clinic. These are things that we hope will impact on clinical practice in years to come.

Image credit: Petr Novák/Wikipedia