The search for treatments to improve outcomes for many eye diseases and conditions is ongoing. Sometimes what can end up being used to treat an eye condition is surprising and sometimes it isn’t.
First the surprising development. Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a treatment for uveitis in dogs using turmeric. Don’t worry you read correctly, turmeric that spice that gives curry its yellow color, is being used to treat an eye condition in dogs.
Uveitis is common in both dogs and humans and it is often occurs as a secondary condition when someone has cancer or certain autoimmune diseases. It is also found in people who have cataracts and it occurs after operations to correct cataracts.
Dr. Erin Scott, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and fellow researchers at the school’s College of Pharmacy found out that when curcumin, which is found in turmeric, was made into a nanoparticle formulation, it is effective in managing uveitis without any side effects. Delivering the curcumin via nanoparticles bypassed both the intestinal and blood-ocular barrier and improves the drug’s availability in the body.
Current treatments for uveitis are steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and they have side effects which include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, negatively impacting kidney and liver function, and increased glucose levels in diabetic patients. These side effects make the use of curcumin all the more appealing since it doesn’t present with any side effects. Researchers hope to start clinical trial with this medication and use this on humans, as well as dogs.
Now for the not surprising development, namely stem cells. They have been a subject of medical research since the 1990s and surgeons at Massachusetts Eye and Ear replaced the ocular surface of four patients who experienced chemical burns to one eye with stems cells taken from each patient’s healthy eye.
The technique is known as cultivated autologous limbal epithelial cell transplantation (CALEC) and it was developed by researchers at the Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana–Farber Cancer Institute. Led by Harvard Medical School associate professor of ophthalmology and a cornea and refractive surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Ula Jurkunas, MD, the first procedure was done in 2018.
To get from stem cells to functioning tissue researchers started by doing a biopsy on the healthy eye where they took stem cells and they were grown in a membrane substrate. Once the cells had grown to the point where they covered the membrane, they were transplanted onto the cornea. What makes this so great is that the patient is receiving tissue that originated from his or her body, so there is less risk of rejection, no need for steroids or immunosuppressive medications and only a small biopsy from the healthy eye is needed.
Another good thing about the CALEC transplant is that once eye surface has been restored, patients are able to receive a corneal transplant. In addition, researchers hope that some patients who get the CALEC transplant may not need a corneal transplant and may get their sight back with CALEC alone. Researchers are following patients and monitoring their progress.
Research is looking at both spices and stem cells to develop treatments. Something to think about the next time you hear about stem cells in the news or are in the spice aisle at the supermarket.