UNE researchers aim to develop treatment for painful dry eye syndrome with MTI Seed Grant

John Streicher

February 28, 2014

According to the National Eye Institute, more than five million American adults suffer from dry eye syndrome, a painful condition that occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or the tears evaporate too quickly.  

It can be temporary or chronic and caused by numerous conditions, including side effects of medications; underlying diseases, such as Sjögren's syndrome; long-term contact lens use; or allergies, to name a few. There are currently few effective treatments for dry eye.

John Streicher, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been awarded a Seed Grant from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to investigate possible pharmacological treatments for dry eye syndrome.

Research conducted by UNE professor of biomedical sciences Ian Meng, Ph.D., has shown that activation of the TRPM8 channel in the cornea may lead to tear production without pain, and could be an effective treatment for dry eye.

Streicher, in collaboration with Meng and Cassia Mizuno, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UNE College of Pharmacy, submitted the MTI Seed Grant proposal to develop new drugs that activate TRPM8 channels in the cornea, which could increase tear production and treat dry eye.

“It surprised me how common and undertreated dry eye syndrome is in the U.S.,” Streicher said.  “The relative lack of truly effective treatments gives us a rare opportunity to develop a new drug that will both take advantage of cutting-edge science developed in Dr. Meng’s lab and hopefully help us reach a large, underserved and undertreated population in need. This project will also help us to develop new jobs and drug discovery resources in the state of Maine.”

The MTI award will enable the UNE research team to create new drugs predicted to activate the TRPM8 channel, test them in cell culture models, and finally test the most promising candidates in an animal model of dry eye.

New drugs found in this project will be further advanced through the drug discovery and development process for eventual use in human patients to address this debilitating condition.

The Maine Technology Institute is a non-profit corporation established by the Maine State Legislature in 1999 to support early-stage research and development activities for new products and services that lead to the market.  MTI invests in seven targeted sectors with a focus on growing and strengthening clusters of activity that include supporting expansion of research and development; expanding the workforce, particularly those with graduate training within each sector; supporting creation of new firms; and linking to networks and alliances for financing and product development.