May 25, 2019 | Updated: 10:06 PM EDT

Blindness to be prevented through a hydrogel contact lens

Mar 13, 2019 08:30 AM EDT

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Hydrogel can treat eye blindness
(Photo : Pixabay)

University of New Hampshire scientists have synthesized a hydrogel to be used as a contact lens for treating corneal melting, a precursor for blindness. 

Different causes trigger this incurable eye disease that includes autoimmune diseases, chemical burns, or even a number of surgical procedures (LASIK and cataract procedures). Enzymes dependent on zinc called matrix metalloproteinases are produced uncontrollably causes the melting of a person's cornea. These scientists developed a cure by creating a hydrogel that results in enzyme deactivation through zinc ion removal. 

"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 UNH. "However, once injected into the body, the MMP inhibitors travel through the bloodstream 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 different 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."

Their findings were published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. The team composed of the UNH researchers and Jung-Jae Lee from the University of Colorado Denver Campus details the mechanism on how MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9 are deactivated by the hydrogel. In vitro and ex vivo set-ups were conducted and the research shows that the hydrogel is a potential therapeutic option for treating corneal melting. The main aim was to permit a more localized eye treatment using the hydrogel and avoid side effects in the rest of the body. The UNHInnovation has filed a pending patent regarding this invention. 

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