New research discovers possible alternative to antibiotics to treat corneal infections and sight loss

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31 October 2019
Source: Fight for Sight

A researcher from the University of Nottingham has discovered a possible alternative to traditional anitbiotics to treat corneal infections.

In his project, Fight for Sight funded researcher Dr Darren Ting from the University of Nottingham explored using antimicrobial peptide drugs to treat corneal infections, which can cause severe sight loss and blindness.

Dr Darren Ting in the laboratory
Dr Darren Ting in the laboratory

The initial findings of this research project are very promising, giving hope for these antimicrobial peptide drugs to provide much-needed alternatives to conventional antibiotics and helping to preserve people’s sight in the future.

In his project Fight for Sight, Dr Ting created several new artificial peptides and showed that they can effectively kill bacteria grown on laboratory dishes – faster than conventional antibiotics. However, he now needs to carry out a lot more work to develop these molecules into drugs that can be used in the clinic, with further research about to begin, jointly funded by Fight for Sight and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Antimicrobial peptides are naturally occurring tiny molecules that play an important role in the immune system of plants and animals. They are effective at killing bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause infections in people.

Almost two million people worldwide each year will develop a sight-threatening infection of the cornea, the transparent window at the front of their eye.  Patients will usually experience pain and will often need intensive antibiotic treatment in hospital to get the infection under control. Patients can be left with permanent damage to their cornea that leads to sight loss or blindness in the affected eye.

But the emergence of antibiotic resistance poses a huge threat to our future ability to effectively treat corneal infections – putting many people at risk of sight loss. There is an urgent need to develop new therapeutics as alternatives to combat these sight-threatening infections.

Dr Darren Ting from the University of Nottingham said:

“I think that vision is arguably one of the most important human senses – and so sight loss can have a significant impact on people’s lives and well-being. We hope to one day bring this compound into the clinic as a an easy to apply treatment for patients with corneal infections. An attractive characteristic of this class of antimicrobials is that they are broad-spectrum – meaning if they work on bacteria, we may be able to modify them to also treat other types of infection in the future.”

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Head of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said:

“Developing safe and effective peptide drugs would provide a new way to treat corneal infections as an alternative to conventional antibiotics in the future. These unconventional antimicrobials have great potential and so these initial findings from this exciting research could lead to the development of new treatments.”

Dr Ting carried out his research through a Primer Fellowship Award awarded to him by Fight for Sight, carried out under the supervision of Professor Harminder Dua and Dr Imran Mohammed at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Ting will now go on to complete a research project jointly funded by Fight for Sight and the Medical Research Council (MRC), for which he will use a combination of sophisticated computational analyses and laboratory experimentation to improve on his most promising peptide. He is aiming to develop a series of refined molecules that are safe and possess powerful antibacterial activity. He will then test his two best compounds in a living system to test their effectiveness and safety within the body.

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