Human Eye Contains Key to Developing Advanced Antimicrobial Drugs
Our eyes, believe it or not, have the most advanced germ-fighting power than any other part of our bodies. Researchers note that proteins in the eye have the ability to keep harmful bacterias at bay, and to harvest this protein can lead to new advances in the development of inexpensive antimicrobial drugs.
A team of researchers from the UC Berkeley have determined that "small fragments of keratin protein" in the eye play a vital role in protecting the body from pathogens. As open ports into the body, the eyes contain strong proponents that keep bacteria and other such microbes, introduced through the air or from itch-relieving eye rubs, from entering the body.
Researchers say that some, but not all, of the diseases that these synthetic molecules effectively protect us from on a regular bases are bacteria that can lead to flesh-eating diseases and strep throat , diarrhea, staph infections and cystic fibrosis lung infections.
"What's really exciting is that the keratins in our study are already in the body, so we know that they are not toxic, and that they are biocompatible," said the study's principal investigator, Suzanne Fleiszig, a professor at UC Berkeley's School of Optometry who specializes in infectious diseases and microbiology. "The problem with small, naturally occurring, antimicrobial molecules identified in previous research is that they were either toxic or easily inactivated by concentrations of salt that are normally found in our bodies."
Tests showed that the microbe-fighting agents studied, derived from a protein called cytokeratin 6, could quickly kill bacteria in water and in a saline solution, showing that the salt contained in human tears would not dilute the protein's effectiveness.
Researchers say that these miracle strains can be found specifically in cells that make up the human cornea, as well in the skin, hair and nails.
They also note that not only is the human eye almost preternaturally resilient to infect, but has amazing restorative capabilities as well.
"It is very difficult to infect the cornea of a healthy eye," said Fleiszig. "We've even used tissue paper to damage the eye's surface cells and then plastered them with bacteria, and still had trouble getting bacteria to enter the cornea even after heavy irritation . So we proposed that maybe there were antimicrobial factors that are unique to the eye."
The researchers posited that further research could reveal numerous different keratin fragments in the body's innate defense system, having within them the potential to be manipulated to kill specific pathogens.
"The findings could lead to a powerful new weapon in the battle against disease-causing invaders. These keratin fragments are relatively easy to manufacture, making them good candidates for low-cost therapeutics." the study authors wrote.