Wayne State Researchers Study Ways to Fight Corneal Infections

Researchers at Detroit’s Wayne State University School of Medicine have received a new National Institutes of Health grant to determine whether a naturally occurring protein in the human body is more effective in combatting a blinding infection than current steroid treatments.
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Researchers at WSU are working to find a way to use proteins in the human body to fight a blinding eye infection. // Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

Researchers at Detroit’s Wayne State University School of Medicine have received a new National Institutes of Health grant to determine whether a naturally occurring protein in the human body is more effective in combatting a blinding infection than current steroid treatments.

Bacterial keratitis, an infection of the cornea, can cause blindness. Symptoms include pain, redness, sensitivity to light, and discharge from the infected eye. Improper use of contact lenses is associated with 19 to 42 percent of corneal infections, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Current treatment includes applying corticosteroids, but such antibacterial treatment doesn’t guarantee good outcomes for vision. Questions also remain about steroids’ immunosuppressive side effects. This approach focuses on the bacteria rather than the host.

“We are investigating an endogenous (naturally produced) protein – thymosin beta-4, or Tβ4 – that can be used as an adjunct to antibiotics to more effectively treat this visually debilitating disease,” says Elizabeth Berger, assistant professor of ophthalmology, visual, and anatomical sciences, and principal investigator of the study. “Our goal is to understand how Tβ4 promotes resolution of inflammation – an aspect of the disease that has yet to be adequately addressed by current treatments.”

Berger and Dr. Gabriel Sosne, associate professor of ophthalmology, visual, and anatomical sciences and co-investigator at Wayne State, will determine the applicability of Tβ4 as an adjunct therapy against pathogens known to cause microbial keratitis, including multi-drug resistant strains.

“Given that microbial keratitis results in more than 1 million combined office/outpatient and emergency visits annually, with the cost of treatment estimated at $175 million per year in the United States alone, these studies have considerable medical and economic impact,” says Berger.

The study will also look at the effects of the protein on inflammation resolution and enhanced host defense. The study is titled “Thymosin beta-4 as an Adjunct Treatment for Bacterial Keratitis.”

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