Project 1: Design and development of soft contact lenses for diabetic eye


Diseases of the posterior segment of the eye are increasing considerably, in part due to an ageing population. One such disease, Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in patients over sixty, accounts for almost 10% of blindness worldwide. Its predicted global incidence for 2020 is 196M, rising to 288M in 2040.

Typical treatment involves regular injections into the eye, which is associated with significant patient discomfort and potentially serious side effects, including bleeding, infection and retinal detachment. As such, there is an unmet clinical need for the development of new and improved drug delivery techniques to treat this and similar diseases of the posterior segment of the eye. This project aims to address this challenge through the design of hydrogel contact lenses suitable for loading and release of therapeutic amounts of drugs useful for the prevention or treatment of deleterious effects due to sorbitol accumulation, vascular proliferation and inflammatory conditions typical of diabetic eyes. Research and experimental work will involve the screening of suitable monomers for contact lenses with affinity for the target drugs; characterization of the obtained hydrogels regarding their optic properties, oxygen permeability, swelling, and ability to host/release drugs; pre-clinical evaluation of ocular toxicity and corneal permeability of the released drug; strategies for the optimization of the formulations; and strategies for scale-up and in vivo assessment in animal models.

The main phases of the research can be summarised as follows:

  • Identification of monomers and hydrogel synthesis protocols for obtaining contact lenses that can host and release active substances to the ocular structures. The contact lens is expected to act as an efficient depot for the sustained release of drugs on the ocular surface, improving ocular bioavailability.
  • Preclinical evaluation of the developed contact lenses. The performance of the designed drug-eluting contact lenses will be characterized in terms of main physical/physicochemical parameters required for contact lenses, and also of ability to host drugs and release them in contact with ocular tissues. Strategies for the optimization of the formulations, scale-up and in vivo assessment in animal models will be implemented.
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