Treatment for blindness-causing retinal detachment using viscous seaweed

Key Takeaways

  • A team of Korean researchers has created a medical composite hydrogel based on a natural carbohydrate derived from algae for treating retinal detachment.
  • When tested in rabbits, the new material demonstrated success in preventing the recurrence of retinal detachment, maintaining stability, and functioning well over an extended period without any adverse effects.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the inner wall of the eye and moves into the vitreous cavity, the space between the lens and retina, leading to detachment and potentially resulting in blindness in severe cases. A common approach to treating retinal detachment involves removing the gel-like substance that occupies the vitreous cavity, called the vitreous body, and substituting it with medical intraocular fillers like expandable gas or silicone oil. However, these fillers have been associated with various side effects.

To address these concerns, a Korean research team crafted a medical composite hydrogel (water-based gel) based on a carbohydrate derived from algae called alginate, offering a potential alternative for vitreous body replacement. Alginate, also known as alginic acid, is the mucilaginous substance that gives seaweed its slick surface and is widely utilized in various industries, including food and medicine, for its ability to create viscous products. 

To validate the hydrogel’s stability and effectiveness, the team conducted experiments using rabbit eyes, which closely resemble human eyes in structure, size, and physiological response. Implanting the hydrogel into rabbit eyes demonstrated its success in preventing the recurrence of retinal detachment, maintaining stability, and functioning well over an extended period without any adverse effects. The results were published in Biomaterials

Professor Hyung Joon Cha who led the study remarked, “Our team will enhance and progress the technology to make the hydrogel suitable for practical use in real-world eye care through ongoing research.” Professor Woo Jin Jeong added, “We anticipate that the hydrogel we’ve created will prove beneficial in upcoming vitreoretinal surgeries.”

The research was sponsored by the Korea Medical Device Development Fund and the Mid-Career Research Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea.

Source: Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH), ScienceDaily, March 25, 2024; see source article