Man with a mission – an update

Following our ‘Man with a mission’ article under ‘Life after bp’ in the November bps news, I’ve received an update from Nevin Stewart, former bp synthetic chemist and BP Research team leader, about his band keratopathy (BK) research proposal. There’s a lot to take in. However, I’ve included the detail here to highlight what can be achieved, even after having retired due to a disabling psychotic illness, when you fight back and put your mind to something.

Just to remind readers, BK is a chronic eye condition in which calcium phosphate deposits gradually build up on the eye. Currently, this scaling can only be removed by an invasive scraping of the eye and EDTA chelation. EDTA is ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid which is used as a solution wash resulting in agonising post-operative pain. Nevin’s goal is to find an eye drop-based treatment that will dissolve away the scaling, restore vision and inhibit further deposition.

Nevin writes: ‘This is the most challenging and difficult endeavour that I have ever tackled.’ Since our November article, Nevin has worked to create a wider public awareness of the disease and to seek the commencement of a detailed clinical study into it. No mean feats.

In terms of wider public awareness, Nevin has made contact with BBC South Today about a potential news item. The news editor advised him to find a BK sufferer willing to be a case study interviewee. Nevin writes: ‘Their real life experiences of BK, and its treatment, could make for really powerful television news. One sufferer likened the present surgical treatment to medieval torture practices.’

His quest took him from Moorfields Eye Hospital to Open Sight, a Hampshire charity for blind and visually impaired people, then the Stickler Syndrome UK charity and, ultimately, SightCare, a network of independent optical practices. It was through SightCare that Nevin was put in touch with Sheila. He writes: ‘Sheila is as sharp as a pin 81 year old who lives in Rutland. She has the BK scale removed every six months by scraping and acid wash and says that the associated pain is worse than giving birth. She did agree that she could make it to a BBC Nottingham studio to be interviewed.’ Nevin admits that the search for a sufferer and their ‘deeply upsetting accounts of corneal scale scraping and acid wash’ have left him drained, but finding Sheila ‘has made it all worth it’.

As regards the creation of an embryonic research team to explore the development of a more humane form of treatment for BK, things are well underway. Through a BP colleague of many years, Dr Ian Meldrum, a research associate and team leader at the Sunbury-on-Thames lab, Nevin has made contact with Fiona Meldrum, Ian’s daughter, and a professor at the University of Leeds with expertise in inorganic salts crystallisation. Nevin considers that Fiona’s expertise in inorganic salts crystallisation and a track record of applying for, and securing, large research grants, makes her a strong addition to the embryonic research team.

Following a response to a letter Nevin had published in Chemistry World, the monthly magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry, he was contacted by Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, Ph.D., professor of formulation science at the University of Reading. The two of them then met up with Vitaliy’s coworker, Dr Roman Moiseev, and established a good working relationship. The professor has subsequently confirmed that an MSc student will start a BK-related research project at the end of January 2024. Both Vitaliy and Roman have research interests and a track record of publications relevant to ocular drug delivery, including the development of ex vivo models to study the effects of chelating agents such as EDTA on the cornea.

Nevin has also developed a contact in Crete, Professor Kostas Demadis, who has expertise in crystal growth inhibition. Nevin believes that Kostas’ contribution could be in the chemistry underlying the pathological crystal growth process and the potential chemical approaches to mitigate it.

Throughout the years of searching for an answer to the suffering, Nevin has enjoyed the encouragement and support of friends and BP colleagues. Back in 2013, it was Hugh Bourne, a senior production chemist with BP Exploration, who alerted Nevin to the deployment of two novel biodegradable scale inhibitor classes. It was this information that led to Nevin’s first BK research proposal pitch. Ten years on, Hugh is now bp’s production chemistry Adviser and Nevin has created an embryonic research team. To quote an enthusiastic Nevin: ‘Now we’re cooking with gas!’ and I wish him and the team every success.

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