COMBING THE SCIENTIFIC literature, Tim Corson, PhD, searched for a new way to treat macular degeneration, the deterioration of part of the retina. It led to him to an unlikely place.
A delicate orchid.
Or more accurately, a medicinal compound the
Patients diagnosed with wet age-related
macular degeneration spend their golden years in a gauzy haze. Inside their
eye, abnormal blood vessels sprout underneath tissue in the center of the
retina. These vessels leak fluid, creating scar tissue. Rapidly, a dark spot
forms in the center of vision, making it a challenge to read, drive and
recognize friendly faces.
Currently, existing drugs only work in 70
percent of cases. But they’re delivered through an invasive method—multiple
monthly injections into the eye.
In the future, a synthetic version of the
compound from the orchid might be the basis for a drug delivered without
monthly injections—and with just a drop in the eye.
Corson’s research is just one example of the pioneering work unfolding at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute, which opened in 2011 and uses 77,000 square feet to house research, clinical and administrative operations for the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. An additional 15,700 gross square feet also became available last summer after the School of Medicine committed $6 million in funding.
By investing in facilities and young
researchers like Corson, the medical school is hoping to nurture a culture that
produces groundbreaking treatments. Implicit is the understanding that it takes
time and resources to make an impact.
In Corson’s case, it’s taken at least five
When Corson researched the compound, called
cremastranone, he noticed it specifically targeted the cells that power the
growth of rogue vessels. However, there was a hang-up. You need a lot of orchids,
and it’s a challenge to isolate and alter natural cremastranone.
So, Corson contacted a chemist and longtime
collaborator in South Korea. They spent the next three years screening more
than 200 synthetic versions of the compound. In 2014, they landed on the right
“We’ve been studying it ever since,” said Corson, who oversees a lab housed at the Glick Eye Institute.
Five years ago, his lab demonstrated that the
synthetic compound has a significant effect on the mechanism that drives vessel
formation. In 2016, they explored its pharmacological activity in animal
models, showing it halts vessel growth without toxic side effects. It doesn’t
affect retinal function. And the compound works even better together with current
Corson cautions that there’s much work to be
done, but his optimism is evident.
“There is a good chance that we may need to adjust the structure before we have a drug candidate,” he said, “but we haven’t seen any red flags so far.”
To learn more about ophthalmology research or make a gift, contact Andrea Spahn-McGraw at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-278-2124.