Seaweed gel therapy for blindness caused by retinal detachment

Injectable hydrogel with tamponading function for retinal detachment.


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People in Korea avoid consuming seaweed soup right before exams because they think it could affect their results. They fear they might make a mistake during the test due to the seaweed’s slick texture. The seaweed’s alginate gives it its slipperiness. There’s a new study about using alginate to treat retinal detachment.

Researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and Dong-A University Hospital have created an artificial vitreous body for treating retinal detachment. This solution, based on a naturally occurring carbohydrate from algae, was reported in the journal Biomaterials. The gel-like material in the eye, called the vitreous body, aids in structural integrity.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the eye wall, potentially causing blindness. Current treatments involve replacing the vitreous body with fillers, which can have side effects.

To address these issues, the research team employed a modified version of alginate, a naturally occurring material present in algae. Because alginate can produce thick products, it is frequently utilized in food and medicine. In this work, the researchers created a unique gel with alginate, providing a novel means of replacing the vitreous body in the eye.

This gel is very safe and has optical properties similar to those of a natural vitreous body, which helps patients keep their eyesight after surgery. Its unique elasticity helps control fluid in the eye, stabilizing the retina and removing air bubbles.

To check if the gel works well, the team tested it on rabbits because their eyes are similar to human eyes. They found that the gel stopped retinal detachment from happening again, kept the eye stable, and worked well for a long time without any problems.

Professor Hyung Joon Cha of POSTECH, who led the study, stated, “Retinal detachment is on the rise, especially in young people with severe nearsightedness. Cases in Korea rose by 50% between 2017 and 2022. Our team is committed to improving the hydrogel technology for practical use in eye care through ongoing research.”

Dong-A University Hospital’s Professor Woo Jin Jeong stated, “The global market for intraocular fillers is growing by 3% annually. We believe our hydrogel will be beneficial for future vitreoretinal surgeries.”

The study shows that thick seaweed-based gels could be an excellent alternative to traditional methods for treating retinal detachment. While promising, further research is necessary to refine the technology and make it suitable for widespread application in real-world eye care settings.

Journal reference:

  1. Geunho Choi, Seoung Hyun An, et al., Injectable alginate-based in situ self-healable transparent hydrogel as a vitreous substitute with a tamponading function. Biomaterials. DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2023.122459.