Cataracts, a leading cause of blindness in humans, may one day be treatable with eye drops instead of surgery, suggests a new study at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD). Researchers at UCSD showed that a solution containing a natural steroid, administered through eye drops, decreased cataracts in dogs.
The lenses in our eyes are mostly made of crystallin proteins that allow us to change focus and keep the lens clear. Cataracts develop when the delicate structure of the crystallin proteins is disrupted and they start to form clumps and make the lens cloudy.
Researchers found that children with an inherited form of cataracts could not produce lanosterol synthase, an enzyme needed to produce lanosterol a molecule found abundantly in normal eye lenses. They hypothesized that normal lenses enriched with lanosterol stops the clumping of cataract-forming proteins. They then tested a lanosterol solution in live dogs with cataracts and found that it had the effect of reducing protein clumping and improving lens transparency.
Should lanosterol in the form of eye drops prove to be an effective treatment for cataracts in humans, it could be a game changer. Cataracts account for 51 percent of all blindness in the world. Most cataracts develop later in life and risk factors include too much sun, diabetes, tobacco and alcohol. Currently, the only way to treat cataracts is with surgery. But this is not an option that is affordable or available to everyone.