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Dr. Jorge Eugenio Valdez García, Dr. Bertha Barba Dávila, Dr. Wendy Ortega, and Dr. Judith Zavala Arcos from Tecnológico de Monterrey are working on the development of a biopharmaceutical based on the Live-forever plant (Sempervivum), which would help to revert or eliminate the condition of pterygia in patients.

Pterygia are abnormal, gradual, and benign growths that appear on the surface of the eye, causing irritation and affecting the field of vision. It’s still not fully understood what causes this condition. However, we do know that there’s a relationship with exposure to the sun. There’s a high number of cases related to this exposure, as there’s a 25% chance of people developing this condition in countries near the equator.

As yet, there is no pharmacological treatment for pterygia. One option is surgical removal, the disadvantage of which is a high rate of recurrence, leading to patients being subjected to up to three more operations.

That’s what happened to one patient, when the growth appeared for the fourth time after three operations. The Tec specialist treating him decided not to operate on him again, as he considered there’d been too many interventions. “The patient returned after a year. When we analyzed him, we discovered minimal signs that he’d had a pterygium in his eye,” said Dr. Judith Zavala Arcos in an interview with Tec Review.

This patient’s improvement attracted doctors’ attention, as he told them he hadn’t had any other operations. However, he had used the raw juice of the so-called Live-forever plant.

“That’s when we took an interest in analyzing the plant. First, we discovered that it was endemic to Nuevo León and that it grows on a lot of houses. It’s also used in traditional medicine. Commonly, people rub its sap into wounds to accelerate the healing process and ingest it for gastritis or pain,” explained the researcher.

That’s how the project to develop a biopharmaceutical for eliminating pterygia began three years ago.

“When we reviewed the formal scientific literature, there were no reports of its use for ophthalmological purposes. We started by analyzing the effects of the plant’s molecular components on cells that we’d isolated from pterygia surgically removed from patients,” said Zavala.

After a couple of years of study, the researchers observed that the Live-forever plant did in fact reduce cell growth and there is currently evidence that it could revert or eliminate the growth of pterygia.

For biopharmaceutical formulation, the researchers ran preclinical trials, as well as a preclinical or animal model. “What we have to do next is test this plant’s molecular components on this preclinical model,” she explained. This is done to know how human beings would react.

The biopharmaceutical could be produced as eye drops or by encapsulating its molecular components in nanoparticles for prolonged release, so that patients don’t have to keep applying the eye drops throughout the day. Another option could be the development of a biomaterial to be used as a transparent contact lens.

This project was presented at Tecnológico de Monterrey’s 48th Research and Development Conference as one of the five Tecnológico de Monterrey projects promising to solve problems that occur in Mexico.

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