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Tao L. Lowe, PhD, of UTHSC Receives $1.9 Million Grant to Study Innovative Nanotechnology to Treat Diabetic Retinopathy

Tao L. Lowe, PhD, has received a $1.9 million grant to study an innovative nanotechnology to treat diabetic retinopathy.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Tao L. Lowe, PhD, associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Pharmacy, has received a $1.9 million award from the National Institutes of Health for her project titled “Nanogels for Drug Delivery across the BRB to Treat Diabetic Retinopathy.” The study will examine the use of a novel nanotechnology to help treat diabetic retinopathy.

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in American adults. New medications are being developed to treat retinal diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, yet most have short-lived lives because they do not or hardly cross the blood retinal barriers (BRB), and can cause toxicity and side effects at high dose. Nanoparticles, however, show great potential for transporting drugs across biological barriers, drug clearance reduction, and improvement to the bioavailability of drugs at targets. A long-range goal of Dr. Lowe’s project is to develop novel nanoparticles for long-term release of therapeutics across the BRB to treat retinal disease.

“No nanoparticles have been developed that can effectively deliver drugs across the blood retinal barriers,” said Dr. Lowe. “My lab has been developing nanotechnology to create unique subjunctivally injectable, thermoresponsive and biodegradable nanogels for aqueous loading, enhanced stability and blood retinal barrier permeability, and sustained release of protein drugs, such as insulin, to treat early diabetic retinopathy.”

To date, there are only a handful of invasive surgical procedures or antibody drugs that can be used to treat diabetic retinopathy. Preliminary studies done by Dr. Lowe’s lab, however, have shown that the newly developed insulin-loaded nanogels will protect the stability of insulin and make the permeability of insulin across the sclera and the BRB much higher, therefore increasing the local bioavailability of insulin in the retina. The new nanogels are expected to offer local insulin treatment in the retina for several months or up to one year and be a far less invasive drug delivery platform.

“Our proposed nanogels are physiochemically, biologically, clinically and collaboratively innovative,” said Lowe. “They will provide a novel periocular drug delivery platform for enhancing drug permeability across the blood retinal barrier and achieving long-term drug bioavailability in the retina to treat diabetic retinopathy and other retinal diseases.”

Dr. Lowe is hopeful that this new nanotechnology will help pave the way for the development of other nanotechnologies that will aid any drug in crossing the retinal pathway, leading to better treatment for retinal diseases.