They also demonstrated that patients with dry eye disease experienced reduced signs and symptoms of the condition in response to a new eye drop treatment --- made from pooled human antibodies -- that targets ACPAs, said the study published in the journal The Ocular Surface.
"The burden of autoimmune dry eye is much greater than just having an occasional feeling of dryness, it can severely compromise quality of life to the point of disability and can compromise a person's vision," said Indian-origin researcher and study's author Sandeep Jain, Professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
In the study, the researchers identified ACPAs as another cause of eye inflammation that also contributes to the development of these webs, which Jain calls "a vicious cycle of inflammation".
The new eye drops treat dry eye disease by knocking the immune system out of this cycle, at least partially.
The drops are formulated using pooled antibodies -- which are made from immune globulins processed from the donated blood of thousands of individuals, all containing varied types of antibodies -- that counteract the negative effects of ACPAs.
The phase I/II drug trial compared the antibody-based eye drops with eye drops without the antibodies.
During the study, 27 participants with severe dry eye disease participated in the trial.
The participants were randomised into two groups. One group was given eye drops made from pooled antibodies and instructed to administer one drop to each eye twice daily for eight weeks.
The control group was given the same instructions with eye drops made without antibodies.
The researchers evaluated patients' symptoms through questionnaires and measured the extent of corneal damage and the amount of pro-inflammatory biomarkers on the surface of the eye before and for the duration of the study.
They found that people using antibody-based eye drops had a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in corneal damage at eight weeks compared with the control group.
In the test group, the amount of pro-inflammatory biomarkers -- or dry areas -- also was reduced on the surface of the eye.
"The data from this early clinical trial suggests that eye drops containing pooled antibodies may be safe and effective for treating dry eye disease and we look forward to conducting larger randomised trials to definitively prove its efficacy," Jain added.