Emory Eye Center's Director of Research, Henry F. Edelhauser, PhD, along with a team of co-principal investigators from the Eye Center and three other institutions, have been awarded an R-24 grant by the National Eye Institute (NEI) for five years. The direct annual costs will run approximately $1.2 million per year. The grant is only the third R-24 grant awarded by the NEI. The collaboration was formed to improve drug delivery to the posterior segment of the eye. Drug delivery to this target is a significant challenge in the treatment of retinal disorders.
The multidisciplinary collaboration includes Emory Eye Center basic science researchers Jeff Boatright, Dayle Geroski and John Nickerson, and Hans Grossniklaus, MD, an ophthalmic pathologist, all of Emory Eye Center. Also contributing are researchers Uday Kompella of the University of Nebraska, Allan Laties at University of Pennsylvania and Mark Prausnitz of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
"Up until now, the major way to get drug therapy to the back of the eye has been with progressive injections into the eye, every few weeks," says Dr. Edelhauser. "Our overall goal with this grant is to develop new, innovative techniques to use a transcleral approach, i.e. from the outside in. To that end, we've put together a joint program with expertise in pharmaceutical science, innovative drug techniques and tissue analysis to be sure we get to the tissues inside the eye."
"We are thrilled that Henry Edelhauser and his team have been awarded this important NEI grant," says Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr., director of Emory Eye Center. "This project has been of interest to our researchers for several years, and we're happy that the NEI appreciates the significance of this innovative treatment," he adds.
Currently, the principal methods for drug treatment of the posterior segment include eye drops, systemic (intravenous or intramuscular injections, oral administration), or injection into the orbit. Disadvantages of these techniques include drug dilution, systemic side-effects, and injection-associated risks (e.g., infection, endophthalmitis (inflammation or infection inside the eyeball), and surgical complications such as retinal detachment. The team hypothesizes that tissue-specific selected-transport processes can be exploited to more efficiently and safely deliver drugs to the retina.
The grant may enable the team to develop novel transscleral drug delivery approaches that use nanoparticles, microneedles, collagen gels, iontophoresis, and electoporation. Collaborative research among investigators from various disciplines including ophthalmology, engineering, and pharmaceutical sciences will help foster the goals of this grant.
The drugs to be used in this study include triamcinolone acetonide, methotrexate, dexamethasone, ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), and il-10 cDNA, agents shown to benefit diseases of the retina in bench science, pre-clinical, or clinical studies.
"This has been an exceptional year for retinal disease treatment with new drugs being developed and coming into the market, but the drug delivery innovation is what's important now," says Dr. Edelhauser. "This new grant will allow us to follow along with a better drug delivery system to the back of the eye."