Project 2: Intrascleral Delivery of anti-VEGF to the Posterior of the Eye using Microneedle devices

Chronic retinal diseases are the leading contributor to visual impairment and blindness that are potentially the most devastating health problem worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that globally about 285M people are visually impaired, of which 39M are blind and 246M have low vision.

Diseases that originate in the posterior segment (PS) or back of the eye lead to permanent loss of vision if left untreated and account for the majority of blindness, such as in age- related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy (DR), diabetic macular edema (DME). Current treatment of AMD involves the direct intravitreal injection of aqueous formulations of anti-vascular endothelial growth factors known as anti-VEGF (e.g. Lucentis®, Eyelea® & Avastin®) in the eye. However, this is not a desirable method of drug delivery for several reasons: the need for frequent injections (every 4-8 weeks), significant tissue trauma, short half-lives of injected biologics, uncomfortable and painful to patients, requires professional training, causes rise in intraocular pressure (IOP), severe injection-related infections (e.g. endophthalmitis, hemorrhage, and cataract), mechanical injury to the lens and retina, and higher costs. This project aims to address this challenge by developing a minimally invasive, localised and sustained delivery microneedle (MN)-based intrascleral delivery system that will allow delivery of anti-VEGFs for improved treatment of PS eye diseases. We will be fabricating integrated MN devices with drug-loaded micro/nanoparticle-based formulations for localised delivery of biologics within the scleral tissue. This project focuses on the design, fabrication, physicochemical characterisation, and in vitro/ex vivo/in vivo evaluation of novel MN devices for PS drug delivery applications. The student will be working on this multidisciplinary and collaborative project (between QUB, UCM, and USC), with a wide-ranging expertise in the area of formulation, 3D printing, polymer, biomedical, analytical, industrial and preclinical expertise.

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

  • To synthesis and characterise anti-VEGF-loaded hydrogels for intrascleral injections using hollow MN device
  • To synthesis and characterise anti-VEGF-loaded micro/nanoparticles for intrascleral administration of soluble MNs
  • To investigate biodegradation, biocompatibility and bioactivity of MN-based delivery systems in in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo models
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