Silkworm cocoons could be the answer to preventing millions of people from going blind around the world.
Researchers at Brisbane’s Queensland Brain Institute are breaking down the insects’ silk cocoons to make fibroid cells which are implanted into the eye.
If successful, it could help people diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is predicted to affect 196 million people worldwide by 2020.
The disease affects the retina at the back of the eye, with one of the risk factors being exposure to UV light.
Researcher Natalie McKirdy said people often did not realise they had AMD until 40 per cent of the photoreceptors in their eyes were already dead.
She said researchers were hoping to improve the treatment offered to patients, which currently involves having injections into the eye and which only work to slow down progression and not restore cell population.
Now researchers are using the silk as a support for the cells, so they can attach and grow and then be transplanted into the eye.
“We are the skin cancer capital of the world and with our aging population Australia is also going to be the AMD capital of the world,” Ms McKirdy said.
Chief scientist Professor Traiam Chirila said using silk for medical use was not unusual.
“It has a long history of bio-compatibility, being accepted by our body and the best proof is it is used for hundreds of years in sutures.”
About eight years ago, 77-year-old Lucia Giaccio began noticing little black spots on her eyes.
“I thought it was a spider but it wasn’t, it was the start of the degeneration,” she said.
Last year she knew something was dramatically wrong when she woke up and could not see out of one eye.
She broke down speaking of the fear of going totally blind and the depression she felt on hearing her diagnosis.
Ms Giaccio receives fortnightly injections, which have helped her vision and she hopes other people do not suffer the same pain she has.
The project needs to move to clinical trials before it can be used on patients.