Weill Cornell Medicine receives $1.27 Million DoD grant to develop a treatment for rare eye conditions.

Weill Cornell Medicine received a $1.27million grant from the United States Department of Defense (DoD). This grant was used to develop treatment for a rare, but severe eye condition that mainly affects military personnel who suffered eye injuries that were traumatic during combat.

Under the three-year grant investigators will test the safety and effectiveness of two newly-developed antibodies to treat proliferative retinopathy (PVR). PVR is a condition that occurs when the cells of the eye develop scarred-like balls following an eye injury.

It’s a possible blinding condition and it’s worth trying to preserve your vision, especially for those who are defending our country, or suffer from other eye disorders.

Dr. Katherine Hajjar is the principal investigator and the Brine Family Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. She is also a professor and vice-chairperson for research in Weill Cornell Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics.

Around 200,000 people around the world each year are affected by an injury to the eye, which is the primary risk factor for PVR. It can also happen in those who have had complex eye surgery or have an eye that has detached. This condition is more common in military personnel due to the increased use of explosives in modern warfare. It affects more than 50% of people who sustain a serious eye injury.

The DoD has funded Dr. Hajjar’s previous research. They revealed that mice lacking the gene that makes the protein known as Annexin A2 (which allows retina cells to form a conglomeration in response o eye injury) were protected from developing PVR.

Also using animal models Her team will now test whether injecting A2-blocking antibody into an injured eye could prevent the development of PVR. The antibodies were developed by the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, which is a collaboration between Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It was created to speed up small-molecule drug discovery in the beginning and antibody drug discovery into new treatments for patients.

Other important collaborators and consultants include Weill Cornell research associates Drs. Min “Lucy” Luo and Valentina Dallacasagrande, lab supervisor Dena Almeida, professor and chair of ophthalmology Dr. Donald D’Amico and ophthalmologist Dr. Szilard Kiss.

“It’s been an extremely exciting collaboration with TDI because they’re experts in the process of creating and analyzing humanized antibodies to make sure they react to the correct protein in the correct way,” said Dr. Hajjar who is also senior associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If we discover a method that works, we’re hoping it can be transferred quickly to humans to speed up drug development.”

If the effort succeeds the research team Dr. Hajjar hopes to partner with a pharmaceutical or biotech company to conduct clinical trials on people within five years. In real-world use, the PVR treatment could be administered to a patient’s eye within a short time following an eye injury.

“I’ve been to military conferences, and I realized they’re looking for something that could be administered in a field hospital minutes to hours after an injury,” Dr. Hajjar said. “What I envision is vials or pre-measured syringes of this substance that a doctor could inject into the eye of an injured patient even before the healing process has a chance to start, which would prevent the formation of scar tissue.”

Dr. Hajjar said that the project will help Weill Cornell Medicine stand out as one of the few research efforts on PVR. She noted that she can think of a number of many institutions are conducting similar work and that we have the unique ability to partner directly with a drug-development institute within our own premises. Their partnership made the whole process possible.

Dr. Hajjar, a “baby doctor” she said that her attention was accidentally drawn to PVR following her experiments with the A2 protein in her lab. She added that the new research could shed light on treating eye conditions beyond the eyes.

She said that a number of conditions involve an ineffective healing process that includes renal and pulmonary inflammation, keloid scarring on the skin and keloid scarring on the skin. These conditions can be extremely disfiguring and demoralizing. “This research is teaching us something about the healing process of wounds at a very basic level that might have a broad impact on treating other ailments that are applicable to children as well as adults.”

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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