By Adrian Galbreth
The majority of people have probably suffered from an eye infection at some point, with the problem often hampering their daily lives until it clears up and generally being a hassle.
However, a new study has suggested that diagnosing, treating and preventing bacterial infections in the eye may soon become a lot easier.
The research was conducted by scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute, a subsidiary of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
They claim that, for the first time, they have found that a bacterial pathogen can literally mow down protective molecules, known as mucins, on mucus membranes to enter and infect a part of the body.
In the breakthrough study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, the specialists describe how they discovered that an epidemic strain of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes conjunctivitis, secretes an enzyme to damage mucins and breach the mucosal membrane to infect and inflame the eye.
Dr Ilene Gipson, the study's principal investigator and a senior scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, said the findings are "very exciting".
"Our discovery may ultimately lead to new ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing bacterial infections originating not only in the eye but in other parts of the body as well," she explained.
According to the expert, the discovery is a "major breakthrough" in this long unsolved puzzle about how epidemic bacteria can enter the body and has given eye experts and other medial professionals a new target for drugs that could be used preventatively, before the condition even has a chance to manifest itself.
The specialists said that the the next step in the research will now be to determine if the method of enzymatically removing the surface mucins to gain entrance is used by other diseases causing bacteria.
by Emily Tait