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IU School of Medicine study shows plants could hold secret for treating common eye diseases

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Chemical compounds found in plants could hold the answer to treating an array of blindness-causing ocular disorders, a collaborative study by Indiana University School of Medicine and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom found.   

Scientists from the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute and their British counterparts tested chemical compounds from a family of plants—Hyacinthaceae—and found that certain compounds could have the potential to treat abnormal blood vessel growth within the eye.  

This blood vessel growth is linked to several types of blindness, including in premature babies (retinopathy of prematurity), diabetics (proliferative diabetic retinopathy) and older adults (wet age-related macular degeneration).  

IU School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology researchers and their colleagues made the discovery as part of a partnership that has spanned nearly five years. Their full findings recently appeared in the Journal of Natural Products, a publication of the American Chemical Society.  

Tim Corson, PhD, the Merrill Grayson Senior Chair and director of Basic and Translational Research at IU School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology, led the team of researchers in Indianapolis while Dulcie Mulholland, PhD, the head of the Department of Chemistry at University of Surrey, led the team in the United Kingdom.  

Tim Corson, PhD

Corson’s lab at the Glick Eye Institute applies chemical biology to problems in vision science. Mulholland is a natural products chemist who routinely works to identify the chemicals found inside various plants. Corson said his team became interested in one of the classes of plant-derived chemicals Mulholland’s team specializes in discovering. They hypothesised that in these chemicals they could discover potential leads for blocking new blood vessel growth 

Mulholland’s lab isolated homoisoflavonoid compounds in various Hyacinthaceae plants and created a few synthetic ones, then sent them to Indianapolis, where Corson’s team tested them and determined they could block the blood vessel cell growth that can lead to eye disease. They found that one synthetic derivative was very potent and could form the basis of future therapies for these eye diseases. Research in this area continues.   

Retinopathy of prematurity, diabetic retinopathy and wet age-related macular degeneration are some of the most common degenerative eye conditions, according to the National Eye Institute. Retinopathy of prematurity occurs in infants who are born weighing 2¾ pounds or less. Some 28,000 children are born at this weight each year in the United States; 14,000 to 16,000 of them develop retinopathy of prematurity.  

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by chronic high blood sugar. In 2010, more than 7.5 million cases were recorded in the U.S.  

Wet age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50. Treatments for these diseases must be injected into the eye, and do not work in all patients, Corson said. Finding new, more accurate therapies is important to ensuring those who suffer from these illnesses can keep their sight. 

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Caitlin VanOverberghe

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...