Research out of Taiwan suggests that the semiconductor particles known as quantum dots could treat serious eye infections better than steroid eye drops. In particular, researchers found that quantum dots work extremely well against bacterial keratitis.
Quantum dots are currently used as semiconductors in our TV and tablet screens. The researchers in this study were able to develop quantum dots that are safe to use in a patient's eyes by heating the compound spermidine around them. Spermidine is typically used to strengthen antibiotics.
The doctors then put these spermidine-coated quantum dots in a group of lab animals. They observed the quantum dots kill a wide variety of drug-resistant bacterial strains. Amazingly, the special quantum dots destroyed the bacteria without doing any damage to the animal cells.
This is a huge leap forward in the treatment of conditions like bacterial keratitis. As of today, the main treatments available for people with this serious disease are steroid eye drops. While steroid eye drops work to kill the bacteria, they often leave significant scars on the patient's corneas.
Many other scientists have tried to develop nanomaterials capable of destroying bacterial keratitis in the past, but most of their efforts have failed. It's challenging for doctors to develop nanomaterials that kill bacteria without spreading toxins in the patient's eyes. The novel thing about these spermidine-coated quantum dots is that they show no adverse effects on the animals' eyes.
Recent estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one million people in the USA contract bacterial keratitis every year. People who wear contacts are at a greater risk for catching bacterial keratitis than non-contact lens wearers. A few of the major risk factors for catching the disease include wearing contacts while sleeping, exposing contacts to water, and not properly cleaning contacts with solution every day. People could also develop bacterial keratitis due to an eye injury.
A few of the symptoms of bacterial keratitis include eye pain, blurred vision, eye discharge, and eye pain. The common bacterial strains that cause this disease are Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Besides steroid drops, doctors could perform a corneal transplant to potentially treat this infection. Without proper intervention early on, bacterial keratitis could cause irreversible blindness.
Doctors Jui-Yang Lai and Chih-Ching Huang were the lead authors on this study. Dr. Lai teaches biomedical engineering at Chang Gung University and Dr. Huang teaches analytical chemistry at the National Taiwan Ocean University. Both doctors are hopeful quantum dots will be used in the future treatment of bacterial keratitis.
The full study was published in the medical journal ACS Nano under the title "Super-Cationic Carbon Quantum Dots Synthesized from Spermidine as an Eye Drop Formulation for Topical Treatment of Bacterial Keratitis." Researchers from the Université de Montréal, Kaohsiung Medical University, and Ming Chi University of Technology collaborated with doctors Lai and Huang on this study.