Gamma globulin helped fight pinkeye: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. researchers may have found a new way to use an old therapy to fight pinkeye, a common but pesky eye infection.

Gamma globulin, an antibody-rich component of human blood once used to protect health workers and travelers from disease, was highly effective at treating pinkeye, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said on Tuesday.

Also called immunoglobulin, gamma globulin works by boosting the immune system.

Pinkeye or conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the clear membrane that lines the eyelid and part of the eyeball. It is most commonly caused by infection with adenovirus, which also causes colds and sore throats.

Antibiotics can treat a bacterial infection of the eye but they are useless against viruses.

While typically a mild disease in children and adults, newborns are especially susceptible to pinkeye. If left untreated, pinkeye can cause serious health complications, or even blindness.

In the study, led by Dr. Andrea Gambotto, the researchers tested the ability of gamma globulin to neutralize the virus both in cell cultures and in rabbits with pinkeye.

A small concentration had a powerful effect on most strains of the virus in both cell cultures and in rabbits.

Gambotto, who uses gamma globulin in gene studies, expected a positive result. But “we were not prepared ... for it to be effective against so many strains and to demonstrate almost no toxicity,” he said in a statement.

The study appeared in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.