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Contact lens capable of treating corneal melting in development

A newly developed hydrogel, which researchers are hoping could be made into a contact lens, has the potential to offer improved treatments to patients suffering keratolysis or corneal melting.

The hydrogel, according to the researchers at the University of New Hampshire, works by deactivating the specific zinc-dependent enzymes, known as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), that are responsible for the condition.

The melting occurs when immune cells in the cornea produce MMPs uncontrollably. The can be caused by a number of factors, such as autoimmune diseases, chemical burns or several types of surgical procedures.

Experiments conducted in vitro and ex vivo showed proof that the hydrogel could be a viable therapy method to treat keratolysis, specifically deactivating MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9, which are key elements of the condition.

“Most of the current MMP inhibitors used to treat this condition work by binding to the zinc ions within the MMPs,” study author and UNH assistant professor of chemical engineering Kyung Jae Jeong said.

“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.”

The team is now working towards the development of a contact lens that would restrict the delivery of the hydrogel to a localised area.

The results were published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

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