The cutting-edge research has identified a gene that causes scarring, together with a repurposed treatment therapy, for the UK’s most common cause of blinding conjunctivitis. The results demonstrate that human scar making cells, from patients with scarring conjunctivitis, are returned to normal by the drug disulfiram, which is licensed to treat alcohol abuse.
In the current study, the research team screened for genetic activity linked to scarring in conjunctival tissue and in scar making cells. The aim was to identify potential therapeutic target molecules and provide a test bed for treatment. The new research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight discovered that disulfiram can prevent scars forming in a mouse model of scarring conjunctivitis by blocking the pathway that generates Vitamin A.
Scarring conjunctivitis is a major cause of chronic pain and sight loss. The conjunctiva is the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the eye and helps lubricate and protect it. In conditions such as ocular pemphigoid and severe eye allergy it can trigger rapid scarring, which can destroy the protective functions of the conjunctiva. Ocular pemphigoid is the most common immune mediated scarring conjunctival disease in the UK. Standard treatment is to suppress the immune system. This controls inflammation when it works, but there are unpleasant side effects and it has little effect on scarring. Approximately 1 in 5 people with the condition go blind.