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New drug to stop progression of eye disease

Researchers from Flinders University, in partnership with collaborators in Melbourne, believe they have developed a new drug that may stop or even reverse the progression of eye disease.

Led by Professor Keryn Williams of Flinders Centre for Ophthalmology, Eye and Vision Research, the team believes that the answer to better treatment of some blinding eye diseases could lie in the blocking of a particular protein responsible for the growth of unwanted blood vessels in the eye.

The protein, identified as vascular endothelial growth factor-B (VEGF-B), keeps blood vessels healthy and alive throughout the body. However, abnormal blood vessels sometimes grow in the eye causing interference with vision.

“The cornea, the transparent window at the front of the eye, isn’t supposed to contain any blood vessels,” said Flinders PHD student Yazad Irani. “But through infection, inflammation or injury, you can get blood vessels growing in this area.”

“The blood vessels basically form a great big net over the transparent window of the cornea, so light can’t pass through, which in turn obscures the vision.”

The team suggests that if the growth factor is taken away, then the blood vessels will go away too.

“It’s like a trap – the drug binds to VEGF-B like a lock and key and prevents it from working,” Irani said.

“In doing this we hope the unwanted blood vessels will die because the food they need to survive, the growth factor is gone.”

The project’s chief investigator, Professor Williams, said preliminary tests showed that the drug affected both human and animal blood vessels, meaning it could easily translate into a new therapy for the human eye.

Irani confirmed that the drug could be used as an eye drop or topical cream, although it could also be administered by injection to stop unwanted blood vessels growing in the back of the eye.
The team will begin animal tests as early as January next year, with results expected within three years.

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