Highly innovative new drugs that can prevent scarring in the eye after glaucoma surgery have been discovered by a London-based team of scientists, who report today in the journal Nature Biotechnology.* By targeting more than one aspect of the scarring process at the same time, the team has been able to use the drugs safely and successfully in animal models of glaucoma surgery. The group includes scientists and clinicians from Imperial College London at Hammersmith Hospital, the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, Moorfields Eye Hospital, and The School of Pharmacy, University of London.
Glaucoma is the most important cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, affecting more than half a million people in the UK alone. It is caused by increased fluid pressure within the eye compressing the nerves at the back of the eye. This pressure then causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. Patients require surgery to create a new channel in the eye to drain away the excess fluid and reduce the pressure. However, the channel can become blocked because of scarring and this leads to the failure of the operation and blindness.
The new drugs are sugar-like molecules designed and engineered to mimic the body’s own immune defence mechanisms. “Our approach is a departure from traditional drug design and we have been astonished by the dramatic results,” said Professor Sunil Shaunak of Imperial College London at Hammersmith Hospital, who leads this multidisciplinary effort. “The increase in the success rate of glaucoma surgery from 30% to 80% in animals treated with this drug has encouraged us to start planning clinical trials in humans.”
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