A research team out of the University of California San Diego has developed an eye drop that reduces the severity of cataracts and increases lens clarity in cataract sufferers.
The impact of this study could be widespread. The World Health Organization estimates that 285 million people worldwide suffer from impaired vision, with cataracts being the leading cause of blindness in middle and low-income countries.
When conducting their study, Professor Kang Zhang and his team of researchers found that when a small molecule called lanosterol is affected by a genetic mutation, it fails to do it’s job properly and cataract-causing proteins bind together clouding the eye’s lens.
In a healthy eye, lanosterol prevents these molecules from clumping together.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye that reduces vision, and can result in blindness when untreated. The impairment is most commonly developed with age but can also be caused by a genetic defect or injury.
Putting their findings to use, Zhang’s team made their discovery and went on to develop an eye drop that contains healthy lanosterol. The eye drops effectively fight clumping, shrinking the cataract.
Dr Manuel Datiles, a senior investigator and attending ophthalmologist at the National Eye Institute in the National Institutes of Health, claims that the eye drops have the potential to overcome a number of limitations of surgery, but they won’t yet replace it.
“With cataract surgery, you become 20 years old again,” he says, “with this one (the eye drops) the lens is cleared up, but your vision can still be murky.”
Zhang admits that the drops may not be a permanent solution and that once the drops are stopped, cataracts can return to the eyes. However, he believes his invention could play an important role in the prevention of cataracts for those patients showing early signs of vision impairment.
The ultimate goal, he says, is to develop a low-cost and effective drug that can be widely used in low-resource settings.
The WHO states that 80% of vision impairment worldwide is preventable and curable.