July 18, 2024
Macular Degeneration

Revolutionary Approach to Treating Macular Degeneration Utilizes Protein-like Polymers

Researchers from Northwestern University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology, led by Professor Nathan Gianneschi, have developed a groundbreaking method for treating neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD). Their research, published in Science Advances, introduces Thrombospondin-1 mimetic protein-like polymers (TSP1 PLPs) as a promising solution for combating this leading cause of blindness.

nAMD is the primary cause of blindness in developed nations, significantly impacting the quality of life for millions of individuals. While current treatments are effective for many patients, a significant portion does not respond well to these therapies. This underscores the need for alternative approaches in the treatment of nAMD.

Gianneschi and his team identified the issue of non-responsiveness to current therapeutics through discussions with Professors Jeremy Lavine and Greg Schwartz in the field of Ophthalmology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. In response, they formed a multidisciplinary team to tackle this problem by utilizing their polymer technology to mimic a key protein involved in the necessary pathway.

The researchers created Thrombospondin-1 proteomimetic polymers, synthetic compounds designed to imitate the behavior of natural proteins. Their study focused on Thrombospondin-1 (TSP1), a protein known for inhibiting angiogenesis and the formation of new blood vessels. In nAMD, abnormal angiogenesis contributes to vision loss. By developing TSP1 PLPs, the researchers aimed to harness the anti-angiogenic properties of this natural protein in a groundbreaking manner.

What sets TSP1 PLPs apart is their nano-size scale, which makes them highly efficient at targeting specific cellular processes, similar to antibodies but manmade. By binding with CD36, a key regulator of angiogenesis, these proteomimetic polymers interfere with the abnormal blood vessel formation characteristic of nAMD. Their small size allows them to navigate the complexity of the ocular environment.

Gianneschi explained, “Our polymers act to engage the key receptor in a multivalent manner. This is similar to how we grab things with our entire hand instead of with one finger. It means we can hold on tight. The PLPs do this, but at cellular receptors at the back of the eye.”

Furthermore, these nanoscale marvels demonstrate exceptional selectivity, stability, and longevity within the eye, ensuring a sustained therapeutic effect. Their small dimensions enhance their interactions with biological systems and pave the way for minimally invasive delivery methods, promising improved patient comfort and outcomes.

Gianneschi and his team’s work showcases the transformative potential of nanotechnology in medicine. By leveraging the principles of nanoscience, researchers are unraveling the complexities of biological systems and engineering solutions that were once considered science fiction. The development of TSP1 PLPs exemplifies the remarkable progress made in the field, providing a glimpse into a future where nanoscale innovations redefine the landscape of medical treatments.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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