- The prevalence of dry eye syndrome varies greatly: between 3.9 and 93% of individuals, according to the studies included in the 2015 report of the French Ophthalmological Society.
- Dry eyes cause visual discomfort. If left unattended, it can lead to corneal irritation as well as eye infections.
Dry eyes occur when the eye cannot provide sufficient lubrication with natural tears. People with this syndrome can counteract its effects with drops. However, this is not always enough: the drugs only work in 10 to 15% of patients. The eyes are then too dry, and the cornea is more susceptible to damage.
Work on mice from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published January 2, 2023 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencehave identified a new target for dry eye treatments and treatment of corneal lesions.
Dry eyes: a new option for care thanks to genes
Dr. Rajendra Apte, principal investigator of the experiment, and his team analyzed the genes expressed by the cells in the cornea of several mice. They examined not only those for dry eye, but also diabetes and other ailments. Researchers have found that in rodents with dry eye syndrome, these cells activate SPARC gene expression. They also highlighted that high levels of SPARC protein (produced by stem cells that regenerate the cornea, ed. note) were associated with better healing of damage in this part of the eyes.
“We performed single-cell RNA sequencing to identify genes important for maintaining corneal health, and we believe that a few of them, especially SPARC, may provide potential drug targets for the treatment of dry eye and corneal lesions”said Joseph B. Lin, first author of the paper and a student in Dr. Apte’s laboratory.
Corneal stem cells: other possible therapies
These stem cells have great potential for the treatment of dry eye diseases. They are “important and resilient and one of the main reasons corneal transplantation works so well”, said Dr Apte. According to him, they also offer other treatment alternatives.
“If the proteins we have identified do not prove to be effective therapies to activate these cells in people with dry eye syndrome, we may be able to transplant modified limbal stem cells to prevent corneal damage in dry eye patients.”