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Research offers hope for restoring sight in acid attack victims

Clinical trials in what is being called a revolutionary approach to treating chemical burns in the eye are being held in Hyderabad, in collaboration with the renowned L V Prasad Eye Institute.

For the first time, a tissue-softening enzyme called collagenase will be used in patients who have vision loss in acid attacks or industrial accidents. This is the first clinical in-man trial to examine how effective the enzyme is at softening the underlying tissue in the eye, thereby allowing the patients' own stem cells to repair the damage and restore the patient's sight.

The trial, involving 30 patients is funded by the Ulverscroft Foundation, a United Kingdom-based NGO that supports organisations helping people with visually impairments. It will be carried out in collaboration with Dr Sayan Basu, a clinician and Dr Vivek Singh, a scientist, at the world-renowned L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad.

The clinical trial follows research by a team from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom that has shown how applying collagenase to the cornea softens the underlying tissue, allowing the stem cells situated there to repair any damage.

Suitable participants for the trial will be selected by an assessment team at the L V Prasad Eye Institute after rigorous medical and ethical approval, and results from the trial are expected in 2021. - Dr Sayan Basu, Director for the Centre for Ocular Regeneration, L V Prasad Eye Institute

Dr Singh believes that if the trial is successful, it can save time and money in treating alkali burn patients. "There will be no need for long term follow-up and the use of limbal transplantation. Recovery too can be faster for the patient".

Every year, about two million people worldwide become blind due to corneal trauma. One in every 5 cases is caused by chemical burns to the eye. Collagenase can prevent the loss of corneal stem cells following an injury, and prevent patients from losing their sight. It offers hope to almost five lakh people a year who lose their sight due to chemical burns including acid attacks.

Professor Che Connon, the director of the study and leader of the Tissue Engineering Lab at Newcastle University says the therapy has several advantages over others. "The simplicity and relative low cost of this therapy compared to existing approaches in which stem cells have to be transplanted is a game-changer. It greatly expands the number of potential patients being treated for corneal burns across the world, and may well have applications in other diseases."

The collagenase formulation has been approved for therapeutic applications by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicine Agency .

Dr Ricardo Gouveia , Research Fellow, Newcastle University , who is lead author of the research, is optimistic about this next stage. "As a scientist it is exceptionally rewarding to be involved in a bench-to-bedside project, using a scientific discovery to create a new treatment that benefits patients and helps improve lives".

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