Prevalence of dry eye disease varies from 5% to 34% globally. In severe cases, it creates dry areas on the cornea that lead to scarring. This may be due to the body not producing enough tear fluid.
Tear production is a complex process and, because of this, there are currently only two approved drugs to treat dry eye disease. To find a new solution, researchers from the University of Chicago have been exploring the details of this process and disorder.
In a 2019 study, Dr. Jain and colleagues found new factors that drive severe cases of dry eye disease: neutrophils and neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). Neutrophils are a type of immune cell and produce NETs that act as webs stretching across the cornea; they help trap bacteria out of cells.
In dry eye disease, NETs cause production of autoantibodies (anti-citrullinated protein autoantibodies) that target proteins, which may subsequently be responsible for inflammation.
The researchers then developed eye drops targeting these autoantibodies. The randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial included 27 participants with various versions of dry eye disease (eg, Sjogren's syndrome, Meibomian gland dysfunction). One half of participants received eyedrops containing the antibodies and the rest of the participants received eyedrops without the antibodies. They were instructed to administer one drop per eye twice daily for 8 weeks. Corneal damage was measured before, during, and after the trial.
Results showed that participants using the eyedrops with antibodies experienced a significant, clinically meaningful benefit, including reduced corneal damage and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.
As a promising treatment for dry eye disease, the researchers now aim to conduct larger studies to prove its efficacy.
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