Invasive surgery may no longer be required for cataract patients who wish to see clearly again. A team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has identified a steroid-based organic compound that can melt away the cataract in the eye.
The researchers believe that the naturally occurring compound, lanosterol, has the ability to dissolve the protein formations that cause cataracts to appear. The Californian team claims that the treatment is long-term and, in some cases, permanent.
The scientists first noticed the cataract-blocking properties of lanosterol in two Chinese children. Both the children had the hereditary form of a genetic mutation that blocked the production of the compound in their bodies. However, their parents did not show the mutation and, therefore, never developed cataracts. The researchers concluded that lanosterol had some connection with the appearance of cataracts.
The team decided to conduct a further study – details of which have been published in the journal Nature – to study the role of lanesterol in cataract formation. They studied the effect of lanesterol in canines who had a naturally occurring form of the disease. It was observed that administering lanesterol cleared the vision of the dogs completely within six weeks.
Dr. Kang Zhang of the UCSD's Shiley Eye Institute believes that if the clinical trial is successful, the eye drops will provide a first-ever non-invasive treatment option for people suffering with cataracts. Currently, the only treatment option available for cataract patients is surgical removal of the affected lens and replacing it with an artificial one.
A person gets cataracts when protein in the lens of the eye builds out and give it a cloudy appearance. Cataracts are more likely to appear during old age. However, they can appear in children as well due to certain genetic mutations. It is estimated that nearly 50 million Americans will have cataracts by 2050.