The glue that could save millions from going BLIND: Scientists develop new adhesive that repairs cuts on the eyes
- Holes on the cornea can be caused by injury or infection by contact lenses
- It can cause blindness or need surgery but there is a lack of donor tissue
- The liquid glue hardens when chemicals receive light, recreating eye’s surface
Millions could be saved from going blind or needing eye surgery thanks to a sight-saving glue.
The adhesive gel, developed by scientists, contains chemicals that when exposed to the light, seal cuts on the eye’s surface.
Researchers hope the glue, which would come in an eye drop, could stop the need for so many corneal transplants. There is a worrying shortage of donors.
The cornea is a thin piece of tissue that can be easily damaged by injury or infection, sometimes by contact lenses or a fingernail.
The developers of the glue, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, hope to start human trials within a year.
A glue developed by scientists at Harvard Medical School in Boston repairs serious eye problems and could save millions from having surgery or from going blind
About 4,000 cornea transplants are carried out each year in the UK alone, and around 117,000 in the US.
Study author Professor Reza Dana said: ‘Our hope is this biomaterial could fill in a major gap in technology available to treat corneal injuries.’
In the lab, the glue worked within days to replicate the eye’s surface.
As well as helping wounds to close, the substance – named GelCORE – also fuels the growth of new tissue.
Professor Dana said: ‘We set out to create a material that is clear, strongly adhesive, and permits the cornea to not only close the defect, but also to regenerate.
‘We wanted this material to allow the cells of the cornea to mesh with the adhesive and to regenerate over time to mimic something as close to the native cornea as possible.’
An eye infection or trauma on the surface of the eye can cause scarring – leading to blurring or complete vision loss.
WHAT IS A CORNEA TRANSPLANT?
A cornea transplant is an operation to remove all or part of someone’s cornea if it is damaged by injury or disease and replace it with donor tissue.
The cornea is a see-through layer at the front of the eye which protects the vital parts such as the iris and pupil.
The operation may also be called a keratoplasty or a corneal graft.
And it is commonly performed to help people who have a condition called keratoconus, which is when the cornea changes shape.
The procedure can be performed on an entire cornea or just on the outer layers, depending on how seriously damaged it is.
Patients can be kept awake during the surgery but given local anaesthetic in their eye, or completely sedated under general anaesthetic. The op takes about an hour to complete.
Potential complications include the body rejecting the new cornea, infection, or further vision problems.
More than 1.5million new cases of corneal blindness are reported every year worldwide.
The current standard treatments for corneal defects include synthetic glues as well as surgery.
But these are rough, toxic, difficult to handle and can lead to significant vision loss due to the material’s opacity and poor integration with corneal tissues.
Corneal transplants also carry risks of post-transplant complications, including infection or rejection.
The developers of GelCORE, described in the journal Science Advances, believe this opens a door to an unmet clinical need.
It is made of chemically modified gelatin and molecules called ‘photoinitiators’ that are activated by blue light found in sunlight.
The function of the cornea is to focus light. Initially, the glue is clear and liquid, but when exposed to light the material hardens to take on the natural structure of a cornea.
Over time, the cornea cells gradually grow into the material, bond with it and regenerate tissue.
GelCORE is the first adhesive gel – some have been made for the lung and other eye defects – to use visible blue light instead of ultraviolet light.
Unlike UV rays, blue light, which is also found in smartphones, does not cause cancer.
The properties of GelCORE can also be finely controlled by varying the concentration and the amount of time exposed to light, said the researchers.
This offers the possibility of changing the formulation for different types and severities of eye injuries.
Professor Dana said: ‘We envision, if a patient comes in with a big laceration, they might receive formulation A.
‘If they come in with a corneal scar, they might get formulation B.’
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU SWIM WHILE WEARING CONTACT LENSES?
Swimming while wearing contact lenses puts a person at risk of blindness.
Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), an amoeba found in water around the world, can infect the cornea – the ‘clear window’ at the front of the eye.
The burrowing amoeba can penetrate through the eyeball, causing total vision loss within just a matter of weeks.
An analysis of all incidents recorded in the past 18 years showed that 86 per cent of patients had swam with their lenses in, according to a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
Contact lenses can create small abrasions in the eye, which make it easier for the amoeba to attach when the eye comes into contact with water.
As well as the risk of swimming, the scientists also highlighted the risk of rinsing lenses with tap water.
Acanthamoeba, which feed on bacteria, can be present in all forms of water, including lakes, oceans, rivers, swimming pools, hot tubs and even showers.
It can also be found in tap water and soil.
Although AK are generally harmless to humans, cornea infections can be extremely painful.
Treatment usually involves antiseptic drops that kill the amoeba, which may need to be taken every hour for the first few days, even while sleeping.
Source: Moorfields Eye Hospital