By Adrian Galbreth
The cures for some of the planet's worst viruses and infections have been found by accident, with Morgellon's Disease being one example of this, and it seems that another mishap may lead to new ways of combating eye disease being formulated.
It all started when postdoctoral researcher Abbas Shirinifard, working at Indiana University's Biocomplexity Institute, was trying to develop detailed computer simulations of the behaviours and interactions of the cells and membranes composing the rear of the retina and its supporting vasculature.
He had hit a metaphorical brick wall in his study of choroidal neovascularization (CNV), where the blood vessels that supply the eye with oxygen and nutrients abruptly break into the retina and disrupt it, leading to blindness within months.
However, fate intervened when an accident involving a donated human retina from an eye bank resulted in the organ being severely shaken during shipping.
It inspired Dr Shirinifard to try again with a series of new simulations and, upon examination of the eye, he found that regions of the retina with invading blood vessels had separated from their underlying membrane.
Meanwhile, regions that had stayed attached showed much less invasion, suggesting that adhesion might be an essential but overlooked mechanism in maintaining the retina's structure.
The discovery, made alongside Sherry Clendenon, a senior microscopist at the Biocomplexity Institute, could change the way that the disease is treated, the expert noted.
Currently, the treatments for CNV either involve killing the invading blood vessels with drugs injected into the eye, those this procedure damages the retina, or laser-heating the blood vessels, which can lead to retinal scars.
Dr Shirinifard said his accidental discovery suggests that scientists have been "barking up the wrong tree".
"Instead, a search for therapies which restore normal adhesion in the eye is much more likely to produce effective treatments," he explained.
"In addition, the detailed agreement between simulation and clinical observations suggests that new approaches to measuring adhesion in patients would allow much more accurate predictions of the prognosis for individual patients."
by Adrian Galbreth