Just one year after initial funding began for a Springfield-based research program to find new and better ways to treat eye injuries, researchers at Mercy Research and Development have products to demonstrate.
“One of the most crucial aspects of treating a damaged cornea is the value of time, therefore the products under development focus on unique ophthalmic technologies that will decrease time to treatment and aid in wound healing currently unavailable within the commercial marketplace,” explains Dr. Shachar Tauber, Mercy ophthalmologist and principal investigator on the research and product development initiative.
The first 12 months of this 24 month program have produced the following key achievements:
- Fabricated functional contact lenses capable of delivery of select pharmaceuticals for more than seven days, application in the battlefield by first responders and aiding in post-surgical correction wound healing.
- Developed the design specifications, manufacturing and testing procedures for the amniotic membrane portable delivery system. Amniotic membrane is the gold standard of corneal wound healing. It is applied over the wound to provide a "scaffolding" on which healthy tissue on the edges of the wound can adhere. It eliminates the need for sutures, which cause the scarring that distorts eyesight. This passive thermal device allows for transport of amniotic membrane to the injured soldiers. The device is capable of maintaining the necessary temperature of 2-8°C for 48-72 hours.
- Formulated the base platform for a novel ocular sealant designed for application by a medic to assist in stabilizing the eye until other life-threatening injuries can be stabilized and the patient can be transported for ophthalmic surgery.
The science behind development of the contact lens and corneal sealant involves the use of electrospun polymer fibers, a Nobel-prize winning breakthrough that Dr. Tauber believed could be successfully applied to the world of ophthalmology. Researchers are able to impregnate the electrospun fibers with medication or other agents that will inhibit infection, improve wound healing and limit scarring so that vision loss is minimized.
The fundingFunding for the program came from a $4.8 million Department of Defense grant. Southwest Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt initially requested funding for the projects in 2008 as part of the Defense Department’s Appropriations bill for the 2009 fiscal year. The bill passed the full House as part of a larger spending package and went on to Senate approval thanks in part to support from Senator Kit Bond.
“The incidence of eye trauma due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other weapons is of growing concern to the military,” Dr. Tauber says. Nearly 40% of all war injuries are eye injuries, yet often these injuries are deemed secondary to life-threatening wounds. Ophthalmic treatment can be delayed by as much as one to three days.
“The development of solutions that can be readily administered by a medic to treat the cornea until the patient reaches a hospital where surgery is available can change that,” he says.
“Time is of the essence in saving a damaged cornea and we are working on solutions that include the development of a new technology that will make it possible to provide immediate corneal repair, stabilize the traumatized cornea and aid wound healing.”