Cataracts are the
number one cause
of vision impairment and blindness in the world. If you are over 40 years old you have an almost 1 in 5 chance of developing cataracts. The only treatments for cataracts up until now have been surgical—cutting away build up on the eye's lens
Coming up with a solution other than surgery has been tough. Scientists have been hunting for years for mutations in crystallin proteins that might offer new insights and pave the way to an alternate therapy. Now, it looks like a team led by University of California (UC), San Diego, molecular biologist Ling Zhao may have done just that. Her team came up with the eye drop idea after finding that children with a genetically inherited form of cataracts shared a mutation that stopped the production of lanosterol, an important steroid in the body. When their parents did not have the same mutation, the adults produced lanosterol and had no cataracts.
Any non-surgical breakthrough in medicine is great news. However, cataracts affect so many people and are an even bigger problem in areas of the world where people have less money. According to the World Health Organization
About 90% of the world's visually impaired live in low-income settings.
And unoperated cataracts account for a third of those visually impaired. The researchers have used human lens cells in a lab and they have used rabbits and dogs
“This is a really comprehensive and compelling paper—the strongest I’ve seen of its kind in a decade,” says Jonathan King, a molecular biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge not affiliated with the study. He has been investigating cataract proteins since 2000. “They discovered the phenomena and then followed with all of the experiments that you should do—that’s as biologically relevant as you can get.”
Ruben Abagyan, co-author of the paper and molecular biologist at UC San Diego, is looking forward to seeing what the lanosterol drops can dissolve next. “I think the natural next step is looking to translate it into humans,” he says. “There’s nothing more exciting than that.”