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Setting Their Cytes on the Prize

A bioengineering and ophthalmology group clinch $100K at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge

PITTSBURGH (October 1, 2019) … CyteSolutions, a bioengineering- and opthamology-led research group, was awarded $100,000 at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge on September 25, 2019 for their novel contact lens that is coated with an immune modifying molecule for the treatment of dry eye disease.

This research is led by Alexis Nolfi, a bioengineering graduate student in the Swanson School of Engineering, who works in the lab of Bryan Brown, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering and member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The CyteSolutions team also includes Mangesh Kulkarni, MD, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering, and Vishal Jhanji, MD, professor of ophthalmology.

There are no effective treatments for dry eye, and the condition will only become more prevalent as the population continues to age. Current solutions are limited and may involve the frequent application of eye drops, which face product loss and may lead to compliance issues by the patient because of their cumbersome application.CtyeSolutions-contact

To address these drawbacks, CyteSolutions is developing a platform for ease of application and long-term relief of dry eye. Using natural biopolymers, an immune modifying drug is embedded into a coating that can be applied to silicone-hydrogel-based contact lenses. 

“When you visit your eye doctor, what is the first thing they hand you before they place an eye drop in your eye? A tissue,” said Nolfi, “because they know most of what they place will immediately fall out onto your cheeks, and what little remains will be quickly dissipated and blinked away.” 

“Eye drops are not an ideal drug delivery mechanism,” she continued. “Since our polymeric coating can only be broken down by enzymes found naturally on the eye, our lens will begin a slow, sustained release of the drug once it comes in contact with the patient's ocular surface. This equates to optimal doses delivered in a sustained way to exactly where it needs to be, with very little waste.” 

In addition to its unique drug delivery, the lens will also target macrophages - a class of cells recently identified as drivers of inflammation in dry eye that current treatments do not target.

Brown said, “The unique strength of the CyteSolutions Lens is that we can actually target some of the underlying causes of dry eye - that is, innate inflammation, as opposed to just treating the symptoms or discomfort that come with dry eye.”

He believes that targeting this underlying mechanism may lead to a cure or at least a long-term solution to this condition.

“CyteSolutions has the potential to impact a significant number of people who suffer from dry eye and offers a much needed solution that patients currently have yet to find,” said Nolfi.

The team plans to use PInCh funding to move the lens into preclinical animal studies with the hope that generation of key in-vivo data will help secure continued funding after PInCh and make the product more attractive to potential partners or licensees.

Two Coulter-funded projects were also recognized in the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge: 

  • OneValve ($100,000) - this Coulter-funded project plans to develop a self-regenerating heart valve that uses the patient's natural healing process to replace diseased heart valves, decreasing the risk of blood clots and improving durability over current therapy.

  • Push-to-Spin ($25,000) - this Coulter-funded project will develop a novel device to make surgical fat grafting procedures more efficient.


Contact: Leah Russell