Mehrdad Rafat, senior lecturer at Linköping University, has been in the field of tissue engineering for almost 20 years. The last three years he and his team have been focused on incorporating drugs and proteins into bioengineered corneas to increase their effectiveness when treating various eye conditions. Dexamethasone is one of the drugs that the team has used in their research, the same drug that now is being used as a treatment against covid-19. Mehrdad Rafat is hoping that their lens can make a difference in prevention and/or treatment against the corona virus.
Can treat the effects of covid-19
His idea is to repurpose their bioengineered cornea technology, which has already been successfully tested in humans, and develop a protective lens that will cover the whole front of the eye as a shield against viral infection, while also being loaded with anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs to both prevent the infection and treat the effects of covid-19.
“There are already therapeutic bandage lenses used to promote healing, relieve pain, and protect the eye surface, but this one is different. It is made from natural materials mimicking human corneal tissue while others are made from synthetic materials like plastics that can deprive the eye from nutrients and oxygen causing eye redness, dryness, infection, and inflammation.”Scientists Mehrdad Rafat and Raha Omrani are working with the lens.
Mehrdad Rafat argues that many of today´s problems exist because we are not mimicking the nature, synthetic materials such as plastics are not only polluting the environment but also the human body.
“It’s time that we move on to more sustainable materials.”
"We're much closer"
Since the group has already implemented key research in the area, Mehrdad Rafat believes that they can fast-track the device through first-in-human trials and make it available to those in need if he can get the project funded and approved by the Swedish government agencies.
“We’re much closer and we hope that in a couple of months, maybe by the end of this year, we will have the device ready to be tested in humans.”
In the end of the summer they will apply for a grant and are hoping for more support.
“Whether we get it or not we’re going to continue this project.”
What do you see as the biggest challenge for this project?
“Well I think that there are two major challenges. Of course, funding is a major challenge, the second major challenge is the regulatory process to approve the technology for use in human. The regulatory process is normally very stringent, expensive, and time-consuming; having said that, my hope is that the review and approval process for medical products during the epidemic are accelerated and more devices and drugs are allowed on a compassionate basis to meet anti-epidemic demands and save lives.”
Two research groups at the University are involved in the project, along with the company LinkoCare Life Sciences AB, where Mehrdad Rafat is CEO and founder, as the industrial partner.
“Hopefully, one of the lessons we can learn from this global pandemic is to prioritize support and investment in health systems and technologies at all levels from the University level to local, national, and international government levels.”
Translation: Cissi Säfström
Close-up of a contact lens.