Tess Ames
18th May 2022

ESR Blog | Axel describes collaboration as a key to quality science

Below, ESR 7 Axel Kattar, of USC, describes his recent time at the ARVO2022 International Congress, and the work he’s conducting to ensure ocular therapeutics can get past the natural barriers of the eye. 

After two years spent working on a project within the ORBITAL framework, two years at the University of Santiago de Compostela doing research on nanocarriers to improve vision for diabetic eye disease patients, I went on my first in-person international conference. Of course, there were other moments where I was able to share and discuss my work: ORBITAL meetings, online conferences, or lectures, but his was different. Four days in Denver at the ARVO2022 conference with close to 9000 attendees allowed for such interesting conversations. This also kicked off my second exchange; the Colorado School of Mines was waiting for me, where I’m working under the supervision of Professor Anuj Chauhan. Moving to work in a different laboratory was nothing new; I had been welcomed in Professor Hákon Hrafn Sigurðsson’s laboratory at the University of Reykjavík last summer and had moved around a bit before starting my PhD.

These collaborations are essential to quality in science. It’s through the critique and different points of view that scientists are able to reframe their projects, adjust and improve their experiments.

We often think of scientific research as a near robotic activity, doing experiments over and over until results can be analyzed, but an essential part of research is creativity. Interaction stimulates creativity, and there are never as many new ideas for a project than after a big conference or during a collaboration.

To be able to transport drugs from outside the body to a specific therapeutic site, many barriers have to be overcome. In the case of hydrophobic drugs, the challenge becomes quite a bit harder. First the drug won’t be soluble in classic eye drop solutions, then depending on the site the drug will have to clear a significant amount of static and dynamic barriers[1]. A suggested solution has been to encapsulate the drug in a carrier that would deliver it to the site while protecting it from the environment. An added advantage is that these carriers can deliver the drug in different ways, over different time periods and even target specific receptors. In our case we are focusing on niosomes, a self-assembled nanoparticle system with a size around 100 nm. These are made of non-ionic surfactants and are able to encapsulate hydrophobic molecules in their bilayer.

My work has been mostly assembly and characterization of these nanoparticles, with a wide range of techniques including imaging, spectroscopy, chromatography, ex-vivo models and more. Formulations using Tween 60 to encapsulate hydrophobic drugs meant for the posterior segment of the eye have been developed and passed size, surface charge, polydispersity index, morphology, encapsulation efficiency, release potential, corneal and scleral permeation and ocular irritability potential tests. Thanks to the continued efforts produced by the I+D Farma group lead by Professor Carmen Alvarez-Lorenzo, the ORBITAL organization, and all the people that have helped thinking about nanocarriers in different ways this research is advancing.


  1. A. Kattar, A. Concheiro, C. Alvarez-Lorenzo. Diabetic eye: associated diseases, drugs in clinic, and role of self-assembled carriers in topical treatment. Expert Opin Drug Deliv. 2021,18(11),1589–607. DOI: 10.1080/17425247.2021.1953466

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