Scientists have developed eye drops for the most common form of pinkeye that capture the infecting virus before it enters and inflames the eye, according to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) is a highly contagious disease caused by the adenovirus family of viruses. Outbreaks are common in day-care centers, schools and workplaces. Currently, treatment is available only for the less common bacterial form of conjunctivitis.

Researchers in Sweden determined that the adenovirus responsible for conjunctivitis enters the eye through receptor molecules called sialic acid located on the surface of corneal cells. They constructed molecular structures called liposomes with numerous sialic-acid residues projecting from the surface that scoop up or aggregate adenoviruses, preventing them from binding to the receptor molecules.

Laboratory experiments showed the compound, administered as eye drops, has the capacity to stop and inhibit corneal cells from being infected by adenoviruses. No adverse effects were reported in toxicity tests on animals and the risk of viral resistance is low because the compound acts outside of human cells, researchers said. The drops may help to reduce and shorten the symptoms of EKC infections and may also be used prophylactically to prevent the virus spreading, they said.

Caveat: The eye drops will be tested in human trials starting in next year. The research was partially funded by Adenovir Pharma AB, the Swedish company involved in developing the eye drops.

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