Cornell vets ID new drug to treat common cat eye infection

Cornell vets are looking for new treatments for a common eye disease in cats.

Feline herpes virus 1 (FHV-1) often causes eye infections in cats, but commonly prescribed eye ointments are a pain to administer and may not even work. Scientists at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Baker Institute for Animal Health have been searching for solutions to this problem, and in so doing they’ve hit upon a drug for treating FHV-1 that is about to enter clinical trials.

The drug, an antretroviral called raltegravir, is used now in people with HIV, according to a press release announcing the discovery. The scientists who discovered that it may work against FHV-1 believe it will be effective when applied just once a day versus several times a day, as is the case with currently used drugs.

The Cornell scientists made the discovery after developing a model system to use for testing feline eye drugs. Using donated tissues from cats that died of other diseases, the team built the model from corneas, which they hardened with a special solution and then suspended in liquid. The model eyes closely resembles a real cat eye when infected with FHV-1, they explained in an article in the Journal of General Virology.

Using the model, they tested two commonly used topical treatments for FHV-1, then started looking for other drugs that they thought might also work. Since medical reports suggested raltegravir is effective against human herpes virus, they decided to give it a shot.

“Herpes-induced cornea infections are a big problem in cats,” said lead author Gerlinde Van de Walle, in the release. “If not treated, FHV-1 infection can eventually lead to blindness.” The once-daily administration would be a major advantage, the researchers noted, because current treatments can be painful for cats, who often hide when they see a tube of ointment in their owners’ hands.

Eye issues can pose problems for cat owners, especially as their pets age. Cornell veterinarians recently contributed to a special issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery that offered tips on keeping cats healthy as they age. They pointed out that some changes in eye health are normal, including lenticular sclerosis, a harmless condition that causes a bluish haze on the surface of the eye but doesn’t affect vision. Still, with an estimated 20% of pet cats in the U.S. living beyond age 11, there’s little doubt the need for new treatments for diseases like FHV-1 will only increase.

- here’s the press release
- access the journal article here

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