IIT Delhi researchers have developed a novel antifungal strategy for Fungal Eye Infection which can prove to be a boon for India, given India has a huge agrarian population, prone to vegetative trauma.
The team has achieved a tremendous feat that can change millions of lives by curing monocular blindness i.e, blindness in one eye, caused due to fungal keratitis.
The all-women team consists of IIT Delhi researchers led by Prof. Archana Chugh from Kusuma School of Biological Sciences along with her Ph.D. students – Dr. Aastha Jain, Harsha Rohira, and Sujithra Shankar.
The team has been working in collaboration with Dr. Sushmita G Shah, Ophthalmologist and Cornea Specialist from Dr. CM Shah Memorial Charitable Trust and Eye Life, Mumbai.
What is Fungal Keratitis?
Fungal keratitis can occur after trauma (an injury to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent) to the corneal epithelium (the outermost layer of the cornea) involving plant matter, and usual pathogens like Candida, Aspergillus, and Fusarium. Soft contact lens wearers are also at risk of having Fungal keratitis which can cause monocular blindness.
Why novel antifungal strategy for Fungal Eye Infection is a huge feat?
Agriculture as an industry contributes to 15% of India’s economy & provides employment to about 1.3 Billion people. Thus, the country’s huge population is prone to vegetative trauma while farming. The trauma to the eye is often caused by the infected vegetable matter such as plant leaves and leads to fungal keratitis (fungal infection of the cornea in the eyes).
Fungal keratitis is the leading reason for monocular blindness in the modern world. In a recent paper, published in Lancet, the highest annual incidence per 1 lakh people is reported in Southern Asia. More than 50% of the fungal keratitis cases out of total microbial keratitis cases are reported from India.
The drugs which are currently used in the treatment of fungal keratitis are less effective, especially in severe disease due to poor drug penetration, poor bioavailability, and antifungal efficacy. US FDA-approved Natamycin (an antifungal medication used to treat fungal infections around the eye) is employed as a medication in the treatment of fungal keratitis. But, due to poor ocular penetration of Natamycin, it requires the prolonged and frequent intake of doses which causes discomfort to the patient.
The Novel Solution:
In an effort to develop a better antifungal strategy for fungal keratitis, the IIT Delhi researchers led by Prof. Archana Chugh have successfully developed a novel peptide-based antifungal strategy for enhanced Natamycin penetration. The developed peptide-drug conjugate showed an appreciable antifungal effect in the lab.
In a press release by IIT Delhi, Prof Archana Chugh, Kusuma School of Biological Sciences, IIT Delhi said, “These peptides are known to have the ability to carry molecules with them in the cells. Therefore, when poorly permeable Natamycin was attached to the peptide, the formed complex showed a better antifungal effect.”
In their research study, the scientists found that conjugate drug penetration was 5-fold higher than Natamycin in rabbits. This enabled lowering of the dosage frequency. Further, 44% of mice showed complete resolution of fungal infection with the novel conjugate as compared with 13% of mice that were treated with Natamycin suspension only. This clearly is a step towards a speedy recovery in Fungal keratitis.