During a genetics study researchers have made an unexpected discovery which might enable them to later develop eye drops in order to cure cataract. They have found a substance which can prevent proteins from accumulating in the lens of the eye.
Nowadays cataract can only be treated through surgery which involves the extraction of the cloudy lenses and replacing them with artificial ones. Cataract means that the clear crystallized proteins which the eye’s lens are formed of start clumping together. This makes the vision become cloudy or blurry. The disease is caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, but in most cases it is caused by the aging process.
Dr. J. Fielding Hejtmancik from the U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI) said that as they start to age the baby boom population will experience an immense increase in the number of people affected by cataract. Already between 2000 and 2010 the cases of cataract patients increased with 20 percent in the United States: from 20.5 million to 24.4 million. NEI estimates that by 2050 the number of patients will double and reach 50 million.
Cataract surgery is a very efficient and safe procedure but with the increasing number of cases the demand will also increase. So this new study can lead to a new way to treat cataract. The paper was published in the journal Nature.
The scientists have discovered that lanosterol, an organic compound, can dissolve the clumped proteins and thus improve vision. The research was conducted on dogs. According to the findings of the study the eye drops which contained lanosterol improved the vision of four dogs that were affected by cataract and completely cured the vision of three other dogs.
Chief of ophthalmic genetics Dr. Kang Zhang from the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of California (San Diego) was the one who led the study. He said that the results of this study indicate that the creation of a nonsurgical treatment is possible and it could be used by those who suffer from moderate cataract or those who do not have access to surgery.
Professor of ophthalmology Dr. Robert B. Bhisitkul at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine was not involved in the study, but he remarked:
“It would have a huge public health impact. Preventing or reversing cataracts with an eye drop has been the Holy Grail in ophthalmology since the field began.”
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