Dry eye disease alters how the eye’s cornea heals itself after injury – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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Gene and protein IDs in mouse research as potential therapeutic targets

A suitable lab

People with a condition known as dry eye are more likely to injure their corneas than those with healthy eyes. Studying mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St.

The study was published online Jan. 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dry eye disease occurs when the eye cannot provide adequate lubrication with natural tears. People with a common problem use different types of drops to replace the natural tears that are not there and keep the eyes lubricated, but when the eyes are dry, the cornea is at risk of damage.

“We have drugs, but they only work well in 10% to 15% of patients,” said senior investigator Rajendra S. Apte, MD, PhD, the Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor at John F. Hardesty, MD, Department. of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences. “In this study involving genes that are key to eye health, we have identified potential treatment targets that appear different in dry eyes than in healthy eyes. “Tens of millions of people around the world – an estimated 15 million in the United States alone – endure eye pain and poor vision due to complications and injuries associated with dry eye disease, and by targeting these proteins, we may be able to effectively treat or even prevent that damage.”

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The researchers analyzed the genes expressed by the cornea in several mouse models – not only dry eye disease, but also diabetes and other conditions. They found that in mice with dry eye disease, the cornea activated gene expression SPARC. They also found that higher levels of SPRC protein were associated with better healing.

“We performed single-cell RNA sequencing to identify genes important in maintaining corneal health, and we believe that several of them, especially SPARC, may provide potential therapeutic targets in the treatment of dry eye disease and corneal damage,” said the first author. Joseph B. Lin, an MD/PhD student in Apte’s lab.

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“These stem cells are important and strong and the main reason corneal transplants work so well,” explains Apte. “If the proteins we’ve identified don’t come out as therapeutics to activate these cells in people with dry eye syndrome, we can even transplant limbal stem cells engineered to prevent corneal damage in dry eye patients.”


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