German eye doctors believe they've discovered a natural way for contact lens patients to combat dry eye syndrome. If you're easily squeamish, however, you might not like to hear what they used to come up with this cure.
The main ingredient in these doctors' serum is mucus from pigs' stomachs. To be more specific, doctors extracted the mucin compound known as MUC5AC.
MUC5AC is a naturally occurring mucus membrane in the human body. Healthy people produce tons of mucin molecules both in the eyes and in our stomach and intestines. MUC5AC naturally lubricates our eyes and protects our intestines by forming strong mucous linings.
Patients who have dry eye syndrome often don't produce enough mucin on their own. It also doesn't help that most people nowadays stare at computer screens which induces digital eye fatigue. Contact lenses wearers further harm the eyes by reducing the flow of oxygen into the cornea.
Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) wanted to see what would happen if they applied MUC5AC directly to contact lenses. They soon found that they couldn't use the mucin from human tears because it wouldn't provide an adequate amount to help patients.
That's why researchers turned their attention to the mucin produced in pigs' stomachs. Not only could they extract a higher quantity of mucin from these pigs, doctors also discovered that the MUC5AC in pigs is almost the same as that produced in the human eye.
Researchers involved in this study were extremely careful as they purified these molecules. They didn't want the MUC5AC to lose any of its lubrication properties while being purified, which often happens in commercially available mucins.
Once the mucins were ready, experimenters placed them on porcine eyes with contact lenses. Study authors noted that the porcine eyes with mucin formed a protective layer between the eye tissue and the contact lens.
In the future, scientists hope to develop a MUC5AC solution patients can put their contact lenses in overnight. While the contacts soak in this compound overnight, it will form a protective barrier that will greatly reduce the risk of corneal injury.
A lower level of MUC5AC production is particularly dangerous for anyone who wears contacts. Without a sufficient amount of mucin, the eye can't form a necessary barrier between the eye and the contact lens. Over time, the pressure from the contact lens could seriously injure a dry eye patients cornea.
Most eye drops on the market today are filled with hyaluronic acid. The problem with using this compound is that it isn't naturally produced in the eyes. Also, it's impossible to make an overnight solution with hyaluronic acid.
Oliver Lieleg, a professor of biomechanics at TUM, was the lead author on this study. He told reporters that this mucin solution needs to go through further testing on porcine eyes before clinical trials.
People interested in reading this study's results in full should pick up the latest copy of Advanced Materials Interfaces. You'll find the study under the title, "Mucin Coatings Prevent Tissue Damage at the Cornea-Contact Lens Interface."