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Researchers Developing Contact Lens to Fight Dry Eye Syndrome

The CyteSolutions Lens team hopes to take the prototype to clinical trials.

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The CyteSolutions Lens, developed by Pitt engineering graduate student researcher Alexis Nolfi along with researchers Vishal Jhanji of the School of Medicine and Mangesh Kulkarni and Bryan Brown being tested in the lab. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)

Researchers in Pennsylvania are developing a contacts lens intended to combat dry eye syndrome.

The CyteSolutions Lens is a silicone-hydrogel-based contact lens coated with natural biopolymers — organic molecular structures — containing a drug that targets inflammatory dry eye pathways “not targeted by any other current treatments,” according to a press item from the University of Pittsburgh.

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“The coating is only activated and degraded whenever it makes contact with the surface of your eye, because there are enzymes in your eyes that work to degrade the polymers we use,” said Alexis Nolfi, a graduate bioengineering student researcher in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “This allows the slow and safe release of drugs over a period of hours or even days as opposed to drops that almost immediately fall out of or drain away from your eyes.”

Nolfi has been dealing with dry eye for several years, and the eye drop treatments she had been taking were only working temporarily, so she was using eye drops multiple times a day.

“It’s been pretty frustrating and borderline debilitating,” said Nolfi. “I had been using artificial tears every night and all through the day. I still use them all the time and haven’t been getting adequate relief, and I fight with my insurance company to cover prescription eye drop treatments.”

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When she went to visit her eye doctor, Vishal Jhanji, in 2018, the two began discussing the need for better treatment options for dry eye syndrome.

“Dry eye is the most common reason patients come into our office,” said Jhanji, a professor of ophthalmology in Pitt’s School of Medicine. “She (Nolfi) had been using eye drops 10 to 15 times a day.”

Nolfi decided to experiment with contact lenses given to her by Jhanji to develop a new therapy tool and drug delivery system.

“There is a definite need for innovation and ways to deliver drugs to the surface of the eye,” Jhanji said. “We’re not looking to simply replenish the eye; we’re trying to tackle the root cause of this problem.”

Nolfi and Jhanji, along with Swanson School researchers Mangesh Kulkarni and Bryan Brown, recently won one of three $100,000 grand prizes at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge, hosted by Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, to further advance their innovation.

The CyteSolutions Lens team hopes to take its prototype to clinical trials and will ramp up studies thanks to the competition’s funding. The researchers said anyone who uses contact lenses would be a good candidate to try CyteSolutions Lens.

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“We don’t expect this lens to feel any different from standard soft contact lenses, and they’re natural with no chemical crosslinking,” said Jhanji.

Pitt’s Innovation Institute, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the UPMC Eye Center assisted with research on the CyteSolutions Lens.

Credit: Pittwire

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at [email protected].

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