Engineering better glaucoma treatments

CERA’s new Genetic Engineering research team is investigating how nanotechnology could improve glaucoma treatment.


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Treatments to reduce eye pressure – like multiple daily eye drops, or surgery – are part of life for many people living with glaucoma.

Although these treatments can successfully halt damage to retinal and optic nerve cells caused by glaucoma, they can be invasive, difficult to use and have side effects. Also, they can’t repair any damage that has already occurred or strengthen cells to prevent further injury.

CERA’s Genetic Engineering Research Unit, led by Associate Professor Rick Liu, hopes to change that and create new treatments that are more accurate, longer-lasting and have fewer side effects for people with glaucoma.

The team’s research is investigating how nanoparticles – particles so tiny that you’d need to combine 80,000 to 100,00 to equal the thickness of a strand of human hair – can be used to improve the way current therapies are delivered.

They are also working with this technology to deliver new, targeted treatments straight to cells that can repair damage and protect cells from further injury.

Nanomedicine potential

Nanoparticles can transport drugs to places they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own, such as injured cells.

They can also enable the slow release of drugs over a long period, reducing the need for repeated doses.

“Nanotechnology is an exciting and expanding research area, especially in the medicine application,” says Associate Professor Liu.

“Nanoparticles can help deliver a drug more efficiently, or to a specific location, enabling eye disease to be managed more effectively.”

It is hoped the new therapies will improve the lives of patients by requiring treatments that need to be administered less often and eliminate the need for more invasive procedures like injections or surgery.

Research findings

In 2021, Associate Professor Liu collaborated with researchers from Monash University and the University of Melbourne to develop a potential method of using nanoparticles to deliver treatment to retinal cells damaged by elevated eye pressure.

The research, completed while Associate Professor Liu was at the University of Tasmania, was published in Acta Biomaterialia.

“We developed a nanoparticle that allowed us to pack the drug and then target the damaged cells,’’ says Associate Professor Liu.

“This system can also help to reduce the drug dose because you don’t need to target all the retinal cells, you can just target the cells that are injured.”

It involved injections, but Associate Professor Liu says it benefits could last between a few weeks and up to a month.

In the longer term, the team hope to further develop this technology so it can be delivered via eye drops.

The way forward

Ultimately, Associate Professor Liu and his team aim to replace invasive procedures such as eye injections – not only for glaucoma but also many other eye conditions.

In another research project, his team have used nanoparticle technology to enable eye drops to uniformly coat and penetrate the eye surface, improving absorption at the front.

These ‘nanoformulation’ eye drops could also reduce side effects and the frequency of administration of eye drops from several times a day to once.

“Ultimately, we want use nanoparticles in an eye drop to deliver the drug into the injured retinal cells and protect them,” Associate Professor Liu says.

“It would be major step forward in treating glaucoma and offers the promise of effective, long-term treatment.”

Read the paper

Ding, Yue and Chow, Seong Hoong and Chen, Jinying and Le Brun, Anton P. and Wu, Chun-Ming and Duff, Anthony P. and Wang, Yajun and Wong, Vickie HY and Zhao, Da and Lee, Tzong-Hsien and Conn, Charlotte E. and Hsu, Hsien-Yi and Bui, Bang V. and Liu, Guei-Sheung and Shen, Hsin-Hui, Targeted Delivery of LM22A-4 by Cubosomes Protects Retinal Ganglion Cells in an Experimental Glaucoma Model. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3718055

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