How do we help patients with chronic retinal disease live the best lives possible? With this question in mind, retinal… specialist Robert Bhisitkul, MD, PhD, provides patient care to those coping with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and researches novel therapies. Bioengineer Tejal Desai, PhD, develops implantable micro- and nanoscale devices to meet urgent medical needs.These scientists have united to deliver better quality of life for patients with AMD and other eye diseases. “For many patients, treatment of chronic retinal disease never ends,” says Dr. Bhisitkul. “They need more efficient, less burdensome solutions that won’t drive up health care costs.”
These senior researchers are developing a radical way to provide drug therapy inside the eye.Their combined expertise has coalesced in prototypes for long-lasting, more effective drug delivery. Although millions of retinal patients benefit from recently approved drugs (such as Lucentis, Avastin, and Eylea) that slow retinal disease, these potent drugs must be injected into the eye, often monthly. Chemically unstable, the drugs quickly decline in effectiveness. These frequent eye injections, which can be required for years, are difficult and uncomfortable for patients and carry some risks of serious eye infection. Now imagine an injection that provides up to a year’s worth of therapy.The dream moves closer to reality as the research duo, supported by Daniel Bernards, PhD; Thais Mendes, MD; and several postdoctoral scientists, refines the device and advances toward clinical trials.
Patients need more efficient, less burdensome solutions that won’t drive up health care costs.” – Dr. Robert Bhisitkul
Nanoscale devices can interact with biomolecules, cells, and drugs at the molecular scale, opening the way for more precise, less invasive treatment. Dr. Desai’s lab team builds on silicon chip methods to develop biomedical technologies for a wide array of patient needs. In collaboration with Dr. Bhisitkul, the bioengineers have created an ocular drug delivery device so small that it fits inside a hypodermic needle. The nanopores in its surface enable unprecedented control and longevity of drug delivery to specific cells inside the eye. To create the nanoporous thin film, the team first fabricates a metal mold with millions of tiny spikes, each about the size of a single drug molecule.To this mold they apply a heated liquid polymer.After the polymer solidifies, they dissolve the metal mold with a chemical process that preserves the porous nanomembrane.The drug pellet is encapsulated between two thin-film membranes, protecting it from breakdown and maintaining its activity. Transforming Ocular Medicine Motivated to improve quality of life for millions of patients, Drs. Bhisitkul and Desai see the potential of their new device to transform treatment for many eye disorders.The team is also The structure of the nanoporous thin film membrane is made visible by an electron microscope. testing their device to hold medicines for elevated intraocular pressure and inflammation of the eye. In a few years, patients with conditions ranging from uveitis to glaucoma may benefit from new adaptations of this groundbreaking work. Seed funding for initial investigation was provided by That Man May See. Continuing research support comes from the National Institutes of Health; University of California, Office of the President; Research to Prevent Blindness; the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund; Nancy and Tim•Müller; and the Coulter Foundation.