Summary: People with dry eye are at greater risk of corneal injury. Researchers report that proteins produced by stem cells that regenerate the cornea could be targeted to treat or prevent such injuries.
People with a condition known as dry eye are more likely than those with healthy eyes to suffer corneal injury.
By studying mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that proteins made by stem cells that regenerate the cornea could be new targets for treating and preventing such injuries.
The study is published online January 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dry eye occurs when the eye cannot provide adequate lubrication with natural tears. People with the joint disease use various types of drops to replace missing natural tears and keep the eyes lubricated, but when the eyes are dry, the cornea is more susceptible to injury.
“We have drugs, but they only work well in about 10 to 15 percent of patients,” lead researcher Rajendra S. Apte, MD, Ph.D., Paul A. Cibis Professor Emeritus told The John F. Hardesty , MD, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
“In this study involving genes essential for eye health, we have identified potential treatment targets that appear different in dry eyes compared to healthy eyes. Tens of millions of people worldwide, including approximately 15 million in the United States alone, suffer from eye pain and blurred vision as a result of complications and injuries associated with dry eye, and by targeting these proteins, we may be able to treat or even prevent these injuries more successfully.
The researchers analyzed the genes expressed by the cornea in several mouse models, not only of dry eye, but also of diabetes and other conditions. They found that in mice with dry eye, the cornea activated expression of the SPARC gene. They also found that higher levels of SPARC protein were associated with better healing.
“We performed single-cell RNA sequencing to identify genes important for maintaining corneal health, and we believe that a few of them, in particular SPARC, may provide potential drug targets for treatment. dry eye and corneal damage,” said the first author. Joseph B. Lin, an MD/Ph.D. student in Apte’s laboratory.
“These stem cells are important and resilient and one of the main reasons why corneal transplantation works so well,” Apte explained.
“If the proteins we have identified do not prove to be therapies to activate these cells in people with dry eye syndrome, we may even be able to transplant modified limbal stem cells to prevent corneal damage in patients with dry eye.”
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Author: Press office
Contact: Press office – WUSTL
Image: Image is credited to WUSTL
Original research: The findings will appear in PNAS
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