An innovative University of Liverpool research project that will investigate whether compounds used to treat snake venom and bee stings could provide an alternative to antibiotics in treating eye infection has been awarded £170,000 by the charity Fight for Sight.
Professor Stephen Kaye and his team at the University's Department of Eye and Vision Science are investigating alternative treatments for microbial keratitis, an infection of the cornea that can be serious if not treated and may eventually cause sight loss.
They have found that the bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which accounts for a third of all cases of this condition, produces toxins that are similar to those present in snake venom or bee stings.
Reducing damage to the eye
The researchers are now investigating whether anti-toxin treatments, called anti-phospholipases, can be delivered directly to the eye to limit or even prevent the cell damage caused by this condition.
Apart from the increase in antibiotic resistance, it is well established that antibiotics only have a limited effect in microbial keratitis. The aim of this study is to develop anti-P. aeruginosa agents as a non-antibiotic treatment for this condition, ultimately to reduce damage to the eye. Researchers hope this study will pave the way for a clinical trial to test a possible treatment.
Professor Kaye, who is also a Consultant Ophthalmologist at St Paul's Eye Unit based at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said: "We are grateful that Fight for Sight has agreed to support this project. We intend to investigate several promising anti-phospholipase agents, optimise their chemistry to increase penetration and minimise toxicity, as well as to design new agents. If successful these agents will be delivered topically to the eye in conjunction with other antimicrobials in cases of microbial keratitis."
Importance cannot be overstated
Fight for Sight is the leading UK charity dedicated to funding pioneering research to prevent sight loss and treat eye disease. Fight for Sight's overall research commitments currently amount to £8m for over 160 research projects at 49 different universities and hospitals across the UK.
Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said "The importance of this project cannot be overstated. Not only do antibiotics have limited impact on microbial keratitis but also antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to our current way of life. This study could also serve as a model for introduction of other non-antibiotic topical therapies for use in other bacterial infections of the eye. It is imperative that we find alternative solutions to ensure that patients continue to have access to effective treatments."
Microbial keratitis is an infection on the cornea, which is the clear window on the front of the eye. It can be a serious condition if not treated and can sometimes cause sight loss even with the correct treatment.