April 16, 2019

Exploring alternatives to fight serious corneal infections

A pair of Wayne State University School of Medicine researchers has secured a National Institutes of Health grant to determine whether a protein naturally produced by humans is more effective in combatting a blinding infection than current steroid treatments.

Elizabeth Berger, Ph.D.,

Elizabeth Berger, Ph.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, will serve as the principal investigator, and Gabriel Sosne, M.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology, Visual and Anatomical Sciences, co-investigator, will apply the $386,000 R01 grant from the National Eye Institute in their study, “Thymosin beta-4 as an Adjunct Treatment for Bacterial Keratitis.”

Bacterial keratitis, a serious infection of the cornea, can cause blindness. Symptoms can include pain, redness, sensitivity to light and discharge from the affected eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, improper use of contact lenses is associated with 19 percent to 42 percent of corneal infections.

Current treatment of bacterial keratitis consists of applying corticosteroids, but such antibacterial treatment doesn’t guarantee good visual outcomes, and questions remain concerning steroids’ immunosuppressive side effects. The approach of the current treatment focuses on the bacteria rather than the host.

“We are investigating an endogenous (naturally produced) protein – thymosin beta-4, or Tβ4 – that can be used as an adjunct to antibiotics to more effectively treat this visually debilitating disease,” Dr. Berger said. “Our goal is to understand how Tβ4 promotes resolution of inflammation – an aspect of the disease that has yet to be adequately addressed by current treatments.”

Dr. Sosne
Gabriel Sosne, Ph.D.

Drs. Berger and Sosne will determine the clinical applicability of Tβ4 as an adjunct therapy against multiple pathogens known to cause microbial keratitis, including multi-drug resistant strains.

“Given that microbial keratitis results in more than 1 million combined office/outpatient and emergency visits annually, with the cost of treatment estimated at $175 million per year in the United States alone, these studies have considerable medical and economic impact,” Dr. Berger said.

The study will ascertain the mechanisms of Tβ4 on inflammation-resolution and enhanced host defense, in addition to establishing the efficacy of Tβ4 as an adjunct treatment to antibiotics for microbial keratitis against multiple pathogens.

The research seeks to provide preclinical evidence for the development of a novel immunoresolvent without the potential side effects of steroid treatment.

The NIH grant number is 1R01EY029836-01.

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