Battling Eye Disease with Targeted Medication Delivery

Portrait of Dr.MackayWhen a service member sustains an eye injury during combat, it is rare that they have immediate access to eye drops, medical assistance and state-of medical facilities.

These limitations require the development of new technologies and therapies to address the ocular issues of service members, which is the goal of Department of Defense’s Vision Research Program. To reach this goal, the VRP has established the Hypothesis Development Award, which “supports the exploration of highly innovative, untested, high-risk/high-gain concepts, theories, paradigms, and/or methods that address an important problem in traumatic vision injuries.”

With a background in biomedical engineering and an expertise in developing new methods of targeted delivery of medications, Assistant Professor Andrew MacKay is uniquely suited to meet these criteria. MacKay has received a two-year, $250,000 Hypothesis Development Award for his project, “Treatment of the Cornea using Transcytotic Delivery into the Tear Film.” Vice Dean Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, the Gavin S. Herbert Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, is a co-investigator on the project.

“The primary goal of the proposed work is to develop a novel targeted protein-based drug and delivery system that can be administered once by injection following acute ocular trauma in a combat situation,” explains MacKay. “This will provide sustained release of therapeutics to initiate wound healing, sustain tissue lubrication in an arid environment, and prevent further damage to delicate ocular surface tissue during transport to state-of-the-art medical facilities.”

MacKay will investigate the feasibility of novel ligand-targeted elastin-like polypeptide nanoparticle-based drug delivery to the eye’s lacrimal gland and anterior segment, which has the potential to treat not only eye injuries sustained during combat, but also a variety of eye diseases that affect the general population as well.

“This platform technology and specific approach are applicable to other chronic and acute diseases of the eye that do not respond effectively to topical eye drop administration, due to the need for frequent administration and poor patient compliance,” says MacKay.

These conditions include glaucoma, severe scleritis, peripheral ulcerative keratitis and mycotitic keratitis, which collectively affect more than 3 million Americans each year.

Furthermore, MacKay hopes that the development a successful elastin-like polypeptide nanoparticle platform technology will not only lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of eye diseases, but that this technology “will be readily translatable to address new and unmet challenges by providing a platform for the sustained release of other therapeutic recombinant proteins” to treat a variety of diseases.