To help stave off one of the most common post-cataract surgery complications, posterior capsule opacification (PCO), researchers are starting to think outside the box—or, rather, inside the eye. A new study recently published in Acta Ophthalmology highlights a potential new drug delivery system using intraocular lenses (IOLs) modified to slowly release erlotinib—a tyrosine kinase inhibitor used in cancer therapy—into the eye.

Researchers tested the novel approach on 40 cadaver eyes that underwent sham cataract surgery. Of those, 16 were exposed to erlotinib alone, while 24 were implanted with one of three IOLs pharmacologically modified to deliver the drug in vitro post-procedure. Results show both erlotinib alone and the soaked IOLs significantly increased the time until total cell coverage compared with controls. The IOLs in particular “mitigated cell growth in the anterior segment model,” the study said.

The researchers also tested corneal toxicity by exposing corneas to high concentrations of erlotinib and exposing corneal endothelial cells (CEC) to the modified IOL. They found no short-term corneal toxicity up to a concentration of 100μm, and the IOLs showed no CEC toxicity on CEC.

“Erlotinib might be of clinical relevance in PCO prophylaxis, as its short-term application induces a long-term deceleration of cellular growth,” the researchers concluded in their publication. “Erlotinib can be introduced into the eye via soaked IOLs.”

Wertheimer C, Kueres A, Siedlecki J, et al. The intraocular lens as a drug delivery device for an epidermal growth factor-receptor inhibitor for prophylaxis of posterior capsule opacification. Acta Ophthalmol. May 31, 2018. [Epub ahead of print].