Touching Lives - March 2010
Research suggests new ways to prevent blindness
Mucous membrane pemphigoid, or MMP, causes the body’s moist skin linings (mucous membranes) to blister. When it affects the eyes, up to 30 per cent of patients become blind due to the formation of scar tissue.
Although MMP most commonly affects elderly people, children can also suffer and its effects are irreversible. Thanks to work by Dr Valerie Saw, an Action Medical Research Fellow based at the prestigious Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, we now know that giving patients steroid-based medication by mouth is as beneficial as injecting it, sparing the cost and inconvenience for sufferers of unnecessary intravenous treatment. But even more importantly, she found that two chemicals known to cause inflammation are present in MMP and that by blocking them, it could prevent scar tissue formation caused by chronic inflammation. Dr Saw also found that the scar tissue was not just caused by inflammation but by a transformation of the cells in the scar tissue itself.
As a result, Dr Saw’s studies have revealed new pathways towards the development of antiinflammatory and anti-scarring therapies to prevent blindness in MMP. The work may also benefit patients who face blindness caused by other conditions such as trachoma and glaucoma.