University of Calgary

Discovery of natural eye lubricant offers promise for more therapies

UToday HomeApril 22, 2013

Tannin Schmidt, PhD in both Kinesiology and Biomedical EngineeringTannin Schmidt, PhD in both Kinesiology and Biomedical Engineering, says the discovery may help people wear contact lenses for longer periods and also lead to new therapies.Innovative research conducted by the University of Calgary and Harvard Medical School has proven that the body’s natural lubricant, lubricin, is produced in many more locations than just our knees and ankles.

The significance of this research could have profound implications for many people, including those who suffer from dry eye disease, complications from refractive surgery, intolerance to extended contact lens wear, and vaginal atrophy.

In a JAMA Ophthalmology paper published online, April 18, David Sullivan, PhD of Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Institute in Boston, and Tannin Schmidt, PhD at the University of Calgary, demonstrated that ocular surface cells express lubricin, which prevents friction between the cornea and conjunctiva, reducing shear stress (such as during eye blinking) to prevent eye injury at the ocular surface. Furthermore, they demonstrated that lubricin deficiency in the eye contributes to corneal damage.

Using sophisticated techniques the researchers also found the presence of lubricin mRNA (the genetic message material necessary to create lubricin) in a number of exocrine and reproductive tissues (cervical/vaginal and uterine), suggesting that lubricin could play a similar role throughout the body.

“These novel findings hold promise not only for treatment of conditions such as dry eye disease, or complications from contact lens wear and refractive surgery,” said lead author Sullivan. “They are also encouraging for people diagnosed with auto-immune conditions, such as Sjögren’s or Steven-Johnson Syndrome, which can cause similar symptoms to develop in the eye.”

“This is a new and exciting area of research for my laboratory,” said Schmidt, who is jointly appointed in Kinesiology and Biomedical Engineering. “I am excited to see where this discovery leads us in terms of potential new therapies as well as novel contact lens materials that help improve biocompatibility and extend the length of time you can wear your lens.”


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