Fungal nail disease can be an unsightly, painful and debilitating condition, with the only clinically recognized treatments being oral anti-fungal medications—which distribute through the entire body—or a topical lacquer with a rigid application process and a 30 percent total cure rate.
“Nail disease such as onychomycosis is usually not life threatening, but it is a quality of life issue,” says UC researcher Kevin Li, PhD, an associate professor at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.
Li is currently investigating methods to deliver medication once a week via gel and low electric current into and across the nail plate. The study is sponsored by a four-year, $900,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 12 percent of Americans suffer from some type of fungal nail disease. The toenails are affected most often because the feet stay in a dark and moist environment.
The fungus is also easily spread in showers or locker rooms. Symptoms can range from discoloration to losing the nail.
Li says, “It’s not just a matter of appearance. In serious cases, people can’t wear shoes or button their clothes.”
The problem with the oral medications, he says, is that they can lead to severe side effects such as liver toxicity and cannot be taken by everyone, such as people with low liver function.
“You have to flood the whole body just to treat the fungus in and under the nail,” he says, and the medicated lacquer has to be applied frequently and on schedule.
Both treatments, he says, also often take months to take effect—if at all.
Unfortunately, once nail disease starts it can be persistent and patients don’t always have the patience to follow the course of treatment—and even if they do, the fungus can still be resistant.
“There is an unmet need for more effective treatment,” Li says.
Li’s ongoing research interests extend to drug delivery methods involving the skin, eyes and ears. Other members of the research team working on this study are: professor Jerry Kasting, PhD, research assistant professor Jinsong Hao, PhD, and graduate student Kelly Smith. All are with the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.