University of New Hampshire researchers have developed a hydrogel that can be made into a contact lens as a way to treat corneal melting. Corneal melting is a serious eye disease that can cause blindness. Many things can cause this disease such as certain autoimmune diseases, chemical burns, and even LASIK and cataract surgeries. The melting occurs because the corneal immune cells begin producing an excess of zinc-dependent enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). The new hydrogel deactivates the MMPs by removing the excess zinc ions.
“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 University of New Hampshire. “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 localized, 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.”
From the University of New Hampshire article: "In their study, recently published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, the UNH researchers, along with researcher Jung-Jae Lee from the University of Colorado Denver Campus, outline how the hydrogel deactivates MMP-1, MMP-2 and MMP-9 which are the major factors in corneal melting. The research was done in vitro and ex vivo (on extracted cornea tissue) and suggests that the new hydrogel could be a viable therapeutic option for treating corneal melting. The end goal is to make the hydrogel into a contact lens that would allow more localized treatment of the eye and avoid side effects in the rest of the body. There is a pending patent which has been filed by UNHInnovation, which advocates for, manages, and promotes UNH’s intellectual property."
Read more about the contact lens that combats cornea melting at University of New Hampshire.