Blog: Ease for the millions of people suffering from eye diseases with targeted ocular drug delivery

We celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, and in celebration, we gave out five Instrufoundation Fellow grants for the purpose of gathering a research team or strengthening the existing one. Astrid Subrizi is one of the five scholars receiving the grant. We interviewed her to ask how her research will influence the field of ocular research, and how might the field look like within 30 years, in 2050. 

While doing her post-doctoral research at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO) at Aarhus University Astrid Subrizi encountered a new technology called SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment) that is used to find  short pieces of RNA (aptamers) that can target specific tissues. This technology may enable the targeted administration of drugs only to the diseased tissues and leaving healthy ones intact.  Aptamers targeting ocular tissues such as the retina, may allow the development of a safe, effective, and minimally invasive delivery strategy for the treatment of eye diseases.

Currently, about 200 million people worldwide are suffering from eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma – diseases that can ultimately lead to blindness. Retinal diseases such as AMD are usually treated with drugs that are injected monthly into the eye. It requires a visit to the medical centre or hospital burdening both the patient and the health care system. 

Now Subrizi and her small research team in the University of Eastern Finland are researching ways to replace these invasive intravitreal injections. They study aptamers for targeted drug delivery that could enable a comfortable and patient friendly way to deliver drugs into the eye. The solution could be, for instance, a less invasive surface-level (subconjunctival) injection or even eye drops for home use: there would be no need to go to the hospital to get injections. Aptamer-targeted drugs should be able to find their way into the diseased cells and cure them, thus, benefiting those millions of people suffering from retinal diseases and currently requiring intravitreal injections.

Eye diseases are likely to become even more common in the following decades when the World’s population gets older. Subrizi thinks that technology will, however, be able to keep up with this megatrend. She believes that in 2050 - if not sooner - the number of eye injections will be reduced and replaced by more patient friendly administration routes. Artificial intelligence can be used to process massive amounts of data, for example, to sort pictures of patients’ eyes and recognize which tissues in the pictures are normal and which are not. In addition, increasing knowledge about different ocular barriers will allow the development of improved drug delivery systems.

Subrizi also believes that by 2050 research on personalized drug delivery to suit the individual needs of each patient will be advanced. For example, one could envision the development of drug delivery systems able to monitor the drug’s effects and automatically adjust the drug delivery to match the state of the eye. 

Instrumentariumin tiedesäätiö 8.7.2020