Through the use of a natural antioxidant derived from sea urchin eggs, Scientists at the National University of Quilmes (UNQ) are working to develop a more effective treatment for glaucoma. The project aims to encapsulate the active principle in nanometer vesicles, which provide better absorption, and the ultimate goal is to obtain a drug that can be administered in the form of drops.
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Glaucoma is youa neurodegenerative disease of the optic nerve that causes progressive visual impairment and can lead to blindness. In Argentina, glaucoma affects over two million people and is expected to have a higher incidence due to an aging population. To date, there are two types of treatment: the use of drops or surgery. However, the drops are of low efficacy, so higher doses are required, and even then the loss of vision may continue to progress.
“The eye has various barriers that prevent the penetration of elements that can damage it. For this reason, when applying drops, the percentage that manages to cross them is very low. We propose to encapsulate the antioxidant molecule in nanovesicles that are able to penetrate these barriers and better achieve the therapeutic goal,” he said. TSS PhD Ana Paula Perez, CONICET researcher at the Center for Nanomedicine Research and Development (CIDeN) UNQ.
researchers Leticia Higa and Maria Julia Altube from CIDeN. Photo: CEC.
In addition to low efficiency, currently existing drops have another drawback: they have only intraocular pressure as a therapeutic target, which is one of the risk factors associated with the disease. “The question is that there are works in which it is observed that, despite the decrease in intraocular pressure during treatment, the disease continues to progress. That is why it is necessary to look for new therapeutic targets, and we believe that one of them may be oxidative stress, which is directly related to damage in the area of the retina affected by glaucoma,” explains Perez.
Oxidative stress is a process that occurs in the body when there is an excess of molecules called free radicals and not enough antioxidants to fight them. This imbalance can damage cells, and as we age, this defense weakens. That’s whyScientists suggest counteracting oxidative stress with the natural antioxidant echinochrome A. These molecules can be extracted from the caviar of sea urchins, a balloon-shaped invertebrate with many spines.
To obtain the extract, they teamed up with the team of scientist Tamara Rubilar, a CONICET researcher at the Center for the Study of Marine Systems (CESIMAR) in Puerto Madryn. Rubilar is working on the development of a dietary supplement based on this extract and is co-founder of ERISEA, the first company based on CONICET technology in Patagonia, producing antioxidants from sea urchin extracts.
The background that led the UNQ researchers to think this antioxidant could be used to treat glaucoma is that it is currently being used in Russia to treat myocardial infarction and certain eye conditions. “The problem is that they do it with injections, which is very invasive when it comes to the eyes, especially for diseases like glaucoma, which require long-term treatment,” Perez says.
Because his research team is experienced in nanomedicine, they set out to look for a better way of administration and thus came up with the development of nanovesicles that function as a transport for marine antioxidants. This tiny carrier, about 300 nanometers in size, has properties that allow it to adhere to the membranes of the eye, overcome barriers, and gradually release the active ingredient.
For the treatment to work, a key aspect is that the molecules do not oxidize., as in this case they lose their antioxidant properties. For this reason, researchers believe that by incorporating them into nanovesicles, they can better protect them. “The point is that encapsulation is not easy. We are testing different formulations to try and make them stable over time and prevent oxidation,” says the scientist.
The sea urchin is an invertebrate animal shaped like a balloon with many spines.
The team consists of researchers Leticia Higa and Maria Julia Altube and student Oriana Lodi. The project is carried out in CIDeN under the leadership of Eder Lilia Romero and María José Morilla and receives funding from the Scientific Research Commission of the Province of Buenos Aires (CIC).
As for the next phases of the study, Perez said: “We are in the first phase, working on incorporating an antioxidant into the nanovesicles. We know it’s a very strong antioxidant molecule and we have a lot of experience incorporating active ingredients into nanostructures so we’re confident we can encapsulate them. Once we have achieved this, we will begin to study the interaction with various tissues to find out their ability to fight glaucoma.”
According to TSS