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Annabi Awarded US Department of Defense Grant

April 9, 2018

ChE PhD student Ehsan Shirzaei Sani and Professor Annabi testing bioadhesives on rabbits.


Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Nasim Annabi received a $2.1M grant from the US Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (2018-2021) for a project entitled "Novel Adhesive Biomaterials for Quick and Long-Lasting Sutureless Repair of Corneal Injuries”. This project focuses on the development of a transparent, non-toxic, and highly adhesive biomaterial that is retained for long periods in the cornea and takes the contour shape of the native cornea. This novel biomaterial can be applied early post-trauma with minimal technological requirement to transform the management of corneal injuries and thinning disorders.

The cornea is the clear dome-shaped structure that comprises the very front of the eye. Its clarity and proper shape are required for good vision. Injuries that lead to tissue loss, deep cuts (lacerations), or corneal thinning can lead to poor vision, and often endanger the entire eye. Ocular injuries on battlefields in warfare are relatively common occurrences, accounting for over 10% of injuries sustained by soldiers in combat. In the Operation Iraqi Freedom and war in Afghanistan, ocular injuries accounted for 10-15% of all bodily injuries.

While combat-related ocular injuries can involve any part of the eye, injuries sustained to the cornea account for a high proportion of these cases. The costs of eye injuries in the military from 2000-2010 were more than $2 billion per year.

Professor Annabi said “When a soldier sustains a significant harmful eye injury on the battlefield, it needs to be treated immediately to prevent permanent vision impairment. Often, the most critical factor determining visual prognosis in serious ocular trauma is how quickly these injuries are repaired. However, the treatment often requires advanced surgical skills and equipment as well as warfighter evacuation to specialty surgical centers.”

When primary surgical correction is not feasible, adhesives such as cyanoacrylate glue (“Krazy glue”) are applied to the cornea as a temporizing measure to treat or prevent a perforation or impending-perforation. But cyanoacrylate glue has many limitations: it is toxic to healthy tissue, induces inflammation, has a rough texture that cannot be tolerated and requires a bandage contact lens, and its application is difficult to control. Also, for corneal lacerations, current repair techniques require stiches. But stitches can result in regular and irregular astigmatism, neovascularization, or infection (70% of post-corneal surgery infections are stitch related). In addition, stitching sensitive organs such as the eye requires an extremely high level of operative procedure skills.

Professor Annabi shared, “In collaboration with Schepens Eye Research Institute, we have developed a new treatment approach for corneal lacerations, which can be employed by non-ophthalmic surgeons. Our material is a smooth, transparent, biocompatible, and potent adhesive that could not only bond corneal tissues for closure of lacerations but could also fill in corneal defects. This product would save eyesight, simplify ocular trauma repairs, and potentially eliminate the need to evacuate from the combat zone if ocular trauma is the sole injury.”

The adhesive hydrogel, is a composite of naturally derived and synthetic biopolymers, and can be cured in seconds upon exposure to visible light, forming a solid gel material that firmly adheres to the corneal tissue and seals the defects without need for stitches. Our bioadhesive has been extensively tested on rabbit eyeballs both outside the living body and in live animals. The biomaterial has shown prolonged retention even when filling in large corneal tissue gaps and could regenerate the damaged corneal tissue. One of the important features of this biomaterial is that it has tunable properties; i.e. its physical and chemical properties can be finely adjusted so that it can be used for different organs.

The team will be ready soon to take the technology into the clinic for applications in humans. The DOD fund will support Annabi and her collaborators to yield a product that is ready for investigational new drug (IND) evaluation to support FDA approval.