Using Algae in Eye Surgery

by Anderson & Shaprio

Researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and Dong-A University Hospital have developed a potential new treatment for retinal detachment using a hydrogel derived from algae. The study, published in the journal Biomaterials, showcases the creation of an artificial vitreous body that could replace current treatments with fewer side effects.

Campus at Pohang University of Science and Technology

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the inner wall of the eye, potentially leading to vision loss or even blindness. Current treatments involve removing the vitreous body, a gel-like substance in the eye, and replacing it with expandable gas or silicone oil. However, these fillers can cause various side effects.

This graphic, courtesy of The Retina Partners, demonstrates current techniques to use gas bubbles to press the retina on the wall of the eye, which is usually followed by laser treatment to weld the retina to the wall.

The research team addressed this issue by creating a medical composite hydrogel using alginate, a natural carbohydrate found in algae. Alginate is commonly used in food and medicine for its ability to create viscous products. The hydrogel has high biocompatibility and optical properties similar to the natural vitreous body, allowing patients to maintain their vision after surgery. Its unique viscoelasticity also helps stabilize the retina and eliminate air bubbles.

To test the hydrogel’s effectiveness, the researchers implanted it into rabbit eyes, which closely resemble human eyes. The experiments showed that the hydrogel prevented the recurrence of retinal detachment, remained stable, and functioned well over an extended period without causing any adverse effects.

An example algae hydrogel, which can mimic the form and function of the vitreous gel inside our eyes

Dr. Hyung Joon Cha, who led the study, highlighted the increasing prevalence of retinal detachment, particularly among young people with severe myopia. In Korea, the incidence of retinal detachment cases rose by 50% in 2022 compared to 2017. The research team plans to continue enhancing the technology to make the hydrogel suitable for practical use in eye care.

Study lead, Prof. Hyung Joon Cha of POSTECH

Dr. Woo Jin Jeong from Dong-A University Hospital noted that the worldwide market for intraocular fillers is growing at a rate of 3% per year and expressed optimism about the potential benefits of the newly developed hydrogel in future vitreoretinal surgeries.

The research was funded by the Korea Medical Device Development Fund and the Mid-Career Research Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea.

Find the original study here:

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