‘Potential revolution' in eye treatment will give hope to acid attack victims

Researchers believe that the use of an enzyme called collagenase could prevent blindness following chemical burns.

A potential new way of treating injuries in the eye to prevent blindness could give hope to victims of acid attacks, researchers have suggested.

Using live corneal tissues from an eye, researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Missouri, recreated the effects of chemical burns.

They found that the use of collagenase, a tissue-softening enzyme, made the stiffened area of the cornea capable of supporting stem cells to promote healing. That could alleviate the loss of sight following injuries like those sustained in acid attacks.

Newcastle University described the research as ‘a potential revolution’.

Details were published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, suggests that stem cells can lose their healing properties when the corneal stem cell niche in the eye stiffens.

Using collagenase to soften it could aid the natural healing process following injury.

Dr Ricardo Gouveia of Newcastle University, said: “This study demonstrates a potential new way to treat injuries by changing the stiffness of the natural environment which we have shown changes the behaviour of the adult stem cells.”

The study was conducted with the help of a microscopy technique which enables the examination of biological tissues at high resolutions.

Professor Che Connon, from Newcastle University’s engineering lab, added: “We can now prove that the cornea becomes stiffer when exposed to injuries such as those caused by what are commonly known as acid attacks, and demonstrate that wound healing is impaired due to stem cells differentiating in response to the stiffening of their otherwise soft niche, and not because they are killed during injury, as previously thought.

“This is an exciting development in the field of corneal biology, and allows us to better understand how vision works.

“But even more important, it provides us with a new set of strategies to treat eye conditions which were until now inoperable.”

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