Natural lubricants play an important role in health, including a well-known effect to help prevent osteoarthritis in knee and ankle joints. However, much is still unknown about their role and function in other areas of the body. Researchers for the first time have discovered that the surface of the eye produces “lubricin,” the same substance that protects the joints, and have explained its role in this sensory organ. These findings provide new hope for the millions suffering from dry eye disease and complications from contact lens wear and refractive surgery. Dry eye disease is one of the most frequent causes of patient visits to eye care practitioners and occurs predominantly in women.
In a JAMA Ophthalmology paper published online April 18, David Sullivan, Ph.D., of Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Institute in Boston, Mass., and Tannin Schmidt, Ph.D., at the University of Calgary in Canada, examined human tissues and cells to determine whether the glycoprotein lubricin is produced by the ocular surface (the anterior segment, or front part of the eye, which includes the cornea and conjunctiva).
Their research demonstrated that ocular surface cells produce lubricin, which prevents friction between the cornea and conjunctiva, reducing shear stress (such as during eye blinking) to prevent eye injury at the ocular surface. Furthermore, they demonstrated that lubricin deficiency in the eye contributes to corneal damage.
Findings from the study also demonstrate the presence of lubricin mRNA (the genetic material necessary to create lubricin) in a number of exocrine, urinary and reproductive tissues (salivary, bladder, cervical/vaginal & uterine), suggesting that lubricin could play a similar role throughout the body.
“These novel findings hold promise not only for treatment of conditions such as dry eye disease, or complications from contact lens wear and refractive surgery,” said lead author Dr. David Sullivan, who is also the Founder of the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society. “They are also encouraging for the possible treatment of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy and other disorders that occur more commonly in women, such as xerostomia and Interstitial cystitis.”
“This is a new and exciting area of research for my laboratory,” said Dr. Tannin Schmidt, who is jointly appointed in Kinesiology and Biomedical Engineering, “I am excited to see where this discovery leads us in terms of potential new therapies as well as novel contact lens materials that help improve biocompatibility and extend the length of time you can wear your lenses.”
This research was supported by NIH grant R01EY05612, the Margaret S. Sinon Scholar in Ocular Surface Research Fund, and the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Tannin A. Schmidt and David A. Sullivan are co-founders of the company, Lubris, LLC, which is developing LUB-013, a proprietary recombinant lubricin protein for the treatment of dry eye disease, osteoarthritis and other healthcare conditions. A series of patents have been awarded or filed around this technology. The intellectual property for the dry eye application is owned by the Schepens Eye Research Institute/Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and the University of California, San Diego and licensed to Lubris, LLC.
About Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck. After uniting with Schepens Eye Research Institute in 2011, Mass. Eye and Ear in Boston became the world’s largest vision and hearing research center, offering hope and healing to patients everywhere through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships. Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex. U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals Survey” has consistently ranked the Mass. Eye and Ear Departments of Otolaryngology and Ophthalmology as top five in the nation.
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