A new enzyme-based treatment for severe dry eye disease drastically reduced signs of the disease and discomfort, hence proving to be safe and effective, claimed researchers.

According to the study published in the Journal of Translational Vision Science and Technology, the trial compared eye drops containing a biosynthetic form of an enzyme called DNase with eye drops without the enzyme.

“Participants in the trial who used the drops with DNase reported less eye discomfort and their corneas were healthier,” said principal investigator of the study, Dr Sandeep Jain.

In dry eye disease, production of tears is abnormal, and the cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eye, becomes inflamed.

In severe dry eye disease, which often accompanies diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome and ocular graft-versus-host disease, the inflammation in the corneal tissue can become extreme enough to cause disabling eye pain and sensitivity to light.

“In dry eye disease, several things happen. There is an increase in the number of white blood cells called neutrophils that gather on the surface of the eye. Neutrophils release DNA which forms webs on the cornea called neutrophil extracellular traps, which cause inflammation of the ocular surface and attract additional neutrophils in a vicious cycle,” Jain explained.

Normally, enzymes present in tears chop up and clear DNA and other debris on the cornea, but in patients with dry eye disease, there is not enough DNase to clear the material.

The researchers evaluated patients’ symptoms through questionnaires and measured the degree of corneal damage and amount of DNA webs and other pro-inflammatory material on the surface of the eye before and for the duration of the study.

The researchers found that participants in the DNase group had a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in corneal damage at eight weeks compared with the placebo group.

“The data from this early clinical trial suggests that DNase eye drops may be safe and effective for treating severe dry eye, and we look forward to conducting larger randomised trials to definitively prove its efficacy,” Jain said.

“The burden of severe dry eye is much greater than just having an occasional feeling of dryness. It can severely compromise the quality of life to the point of disability and can compromise a person’s vision. There are currently only two approved drugs to treat dry eye, and they don’t work for everyone, especially those with severe disease, so having a new drug that can treat the disease is very important,” Jain concluded.