Study funded by Moorfields Eye Charity identifies drug to treat a blinding disorder

New research from Moorfields Eye Hospital, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Duke University School of Medicine has identified a gene that causes scarring and a repurposed treatment therapy, for the UK’s most common cause of blinding conjunctivitis.

The conjunctiva is the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the eye and helps lubricate and protect it, and scarring to it is a major cause of chronic pain and sight loss. Conditions such as ocular pemphigoid and severe eye allergy can trigger rapid scarring, which can destroy the protective functions of the conjunctiva.

In the study, the research team screened for genetic activity linked to scarring in conjunctival tissue and in scar making cells. They discovered that disulfiram, a dug currently licensed to treat alcohol abuse, can prevent scars forming in a model of scarring conjunctivitis.

Ocular pemphigoid is the most common immune mediated scarring conjunctival disease in the UK. Hither to, the standard treatment has been to suppress the immune system. While this can control the inflammation caused by the condition, it has unpleasant side effects and it has little effect on scarring. Right now, approximately 1 in 5 people with ocular pemphigoid go blind.

Commenting on the study Professor John Dart, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital and joint research lead said: 

These findings suggest that the repurposing of disulfiram, for the topical treatment of mucosal scarring in disorders such as severe eye allergy, may result in effective anti-scarring therapy. They also provide justification for a randomised controlled trial of disulfiram therapy for scarring in ocular pemphigold.

Professor Phil Luthert, director of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology said: 

Scarring remains a major problem in eye disease, and in many other conditions, and uncontrolled conjunctival fibrosis is terrible to live with. This breakthrough offers new hope and is a great example of how discovery science can come together with smart repurposing of existing drugs to reach a solution for patients.

Dr Ailish Murray, grants manager at Moorfields Eye Charity said:

For people with eye diseases and many other conditions, scarring can have a devastating impact. Moorfields Eye Charity was delighted to support this important study and we congratulate Professor Dart and his team on their success.