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Cornea Research Brings Clear-Eyed View on Cancer

Discovery of how lens stays transparent has wide implications, experts say

THURSDAY, July 20, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new study pinpoints the key role of a specific growth factor in keeping eyes healthy. The finding might even aid cancer research, researchers say.

U.S. researchers say large amounts of the protein VEGFR-3 (vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3) on the top epithelial layer of the cornea keeps the cornea transparent and free of blood vessels and, thus, makes vision possible.

The cornea is the thin, clear tissue that covers the front of the eye. It's one of the few tissues that actively keeps itself free of blood vessels. Until now, researchers did not know exactly how the cornea managed to do this.

VEGFR-3 inhibits blood vessel growth in the cornea by binding or neutralizing growth factors that would normally stimulate blood vessel growth, said scientists at the Schepens Eye Research Institute and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Their finding was published in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and is expected to be published in the July 25 print issue.

The study answers a scientific mystery and may also eventually help researchers find ways to prevent and cure blinding eye diseases and also illnesses such as cancer, where blood vessels grow abnormally and uncontrollably.

"Drugs designed to manipulate the levels of this protein could heal corneas that have undergone severe trauma or help shrink tumors fed by rapidly growing abnormal blood vessels. In fact, the next step in our work is exactly this," study senior author Dr. Reza Dana, senior scientist at Schepens and head of the Cornea Institute at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about the cornea and corneal disease.

SOURCE: Schepens Eye Research Institute, news release, July 17, 2006
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