Glaucoma is a progressive disease that deteriorates the optic nerve by causing a loss of retinal ganglion cells. It affects 60 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of blindness globally. Curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to protect and stimulate the growth of ganglion cells. The compound can be administered orally, but unfortunately it has a low solubility in the bloodstream.
In 2018, Professor Francesca Cordeiro and her team at UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology discovered a more efficient method to deliver curcumin – nanoparticles. By encapsulating curcumin in nanoparticles, the team were able to specifically target the eye instead of other parts of the body. What’s more, the curcumin-encapsulating nanoparticles have a solubility 400,000 times greater than curcumin which is administered orally.
Initially, Cordeiro and her team applied the eyedrops to model glaucoma cells before trying it on rats with glaucoma. After just two days of applying the eyedrops, the loss of retinal ganglion cells reduced significantly and there were no indicators of inflammation and irritation in the rats’ eyes. The nanoparticles used were all less than 20 nanometers across; that’s about the thickness of 8 strands of human DNA.
According to professor Cordeiro, “Curcumin is an exciting compound that has shown promise at detecting and treating the neurodegeneration implicated in numerous eye and brain conditions from glaucoma to Alzheimer’s disease”. These eyedrops with nanoparticles could revolutionise the future of nanomedicine and improve the lives of those with glaucoma and a variety of other degenerative diseases. This is a breakthrough that will surely help millions of people across the globe.
Athaliah Fubara – Science Writer