Eyedrops may be replaced by stick-on nanowafers

A simplified illustration of the nanowafer (Image: ACS)

As anyone who has ever used medicinal eyedrops will know, it's hard to get the things into your own eye. Soon, however, they could be replaced by tiny drug-containing polymer "nanowafers" that are applied to the eye like a contact lens. Those wafers would proceed to gradually dissolve, releasing medication throughout the day.

Not only do eyedrops not always go right into the eye, but the liquid medication is often quickly expelled by blinking, or washed away by tears. As a result, patients are typically advised to apply the drops more than once a day, in order to make sure they get enough. This unfortunately increases the chances that they'll miss a dose, plus it boosts the likelihood of side effects such as blurred vision or inflammation.

As an alternative, a team of scientists from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas developed the nanowafer.

It's clear and disc-shaped like a contact lens, but is only about one-tenth the size. The pharmaceutical payload is contained within an array of nanoreservoirs embedded throughout the non-toxic polymer. Users would apply it to the surface of their eye just once a day, then leave it to dissolve on its own – repeated blinking wouldn't displace it.

In a lab test, nanowafers loaded with antibiotics were used to treat burns on the corneas of mice. A second group of mice received the same medication, but in the form of eye drops delivered twice a day. When the corneas were examined after 10 days of treatment, it was found that the wafers were approximately twice as effective at healing the wounds.

The research was led by Dr. Ghanashyam Acharya, and is outlined in a paper recently published in the journal ACS Nano.

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