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Envisioning innovative ways to treat macular degeneration

Ort Professor researches "nano" drug delivery methods, cites transformative gifts
Posted October 19, 2016

Video: Renee Fischer


Peter Campochiaro, MD, and Ort Professor Justin Hanes, PhD, collaborate on developing new treatments at the Wilmer Eye Institute. Peter Campochiaro, MD, and Ort Professor Justin Hanes, PhD, collaborate on developing new treatments at the Wilmer Eye Institute.

Could age-related macular degeneration – uncontrolled blood vessel growth that is a leading cause of vision loss – be treated by taking a pill every day?

That's what Justin Hanes, PhD, the Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology, and his team are working to accomplish.

"In the future we'd like people to be able to wake up in the morning and take a pill, kind of like a vitamin pill, but that would have drugs that would be targeted from their GI tract and end up specifically in the back of the eye and be able to treat diseases like macular degeneration very effectively," says Hanes, who is the director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute. The center brings together engineers, scientists, and clinicians to work on innovative drug and gene therapy delivery technologies.

Similar to the blood-brain barrier which safeguards the brain from neurotoxins and other substances within the bloodstream, there is also a blood-retinal barrier protecting the eye. As a result, the current treatment for macular degeneration is a series of injections directly into the eye.

"We are studying unique, very small nanoparticles that can ferry drugs across that blood‑retinal barrier into the back of the eye," says Hanes. "And we're creating a biodegradable plastic that degrades into a drug that affects the master regulator of the new blood vessel growth that ends up causing the disease."

These methodologies can be widely applied in gene therapies and the creation of drugs to treat other eye ailments as well as other diseases like cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, cervical cancer, brain cancer, COPD, and asthma, according to Hanes. 

"And transformative gifts, they allow us allow us to work on big ideas, things that have the potential to really move the field, to really have an impact on people's lives," says Hanes.

To learn how you can support the Center for Nanomedicine, please contact Libby Bryce Bell at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute.