Microneedles are a possible treatment for two eye diseases

Microneedles are a possible treatment for two eye diseases

Tiny needles, ranging in length from 400 to 700 microns, could bring huge advancements in treatment options for two of the world's leading eye diseases.

"Any medication that alleviates patients from having to administer it themselves is better."

Researchers have found that microneedles could offer better treatment options for both glaucoma and corneal neovascularization because of their ability to target specific areas of the eye instead of the entire eye.

For glaucoma, which affects over 2 million Americans, the goal would be to develop time-release drugs that could replace the need for daily administration of eye drops.

In the case of corneal neovascularization, researchers developed microneedles that deliver a dry drug compound that would stop blood vessel growth.

The study, conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was supported by the National Eye Institute and done using animal models. Researchers note that further animal testing is needed before human trials could begin.

Possible impact on patient care
Christopher Quinn, O.D., member of the AOA Board of Trustees, believes that the use of microneedles would be effective and could become widely used—if trials advance.

"Getting drugs into the eye is a very difficult business. Any alternative delivery method that can get a higher concentration of the drug to a targeted area of the eye is good," Dr. Quinn says.

Currently, glaucoma is controlled by the use of daily eye drops, which depends almost solely on the patient's adherence to medical therapy.

"It's been well studied—patients don't take medication as it's prescribed. Any medication that alleviates patients from having to administer it themselves is better," Dr. Quinn says.

He also adds that the microneedles would likely render fewer side effects, while still offering positive pharmacological affects. These injections would also be less painful for patients.

"Anything that still has the word 'needle' in it is going to make people squeamish, but since they are so small, there will be little to no pain," says Dr. Quinn.

Optometry's role in drug administration
Although this method could prove to be effective, administering injections is outside the scope of practice for many optometrists.

Dr. Quinn hopes that medical advancements—including microneedle drug administration—will motivate some states to change their laws.

"Today, many medications are administered through injections in the eye. This is an example of new technology that will perhaps be very beneficial to patients," says Dr. Quinn.

"If you're competent and experienced in prescribing medications, the delivery method shouldn't matter. Injections are simply a different route of administration," he adds.

December 8, 2014

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