Scientists develop revolutionary non-surgical treatment for cataracts

The non-surgical new treatment has sparked hope among millions suffering from cataracts worldwide.

Cataract is a clouding of the eye lens that develops over time and affects the quality of vision. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a groundbreaking development, researchers have unveiled a new treatment for cataracts, a condition that has long been addressed solely through surgical intervention. The discovery, which has sparked hope among millions suffering from cataracts worldwide, was recently published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

With an estimated 65.2 million individuals grappling with cataracts, it remains a leading cause of blindness and visual impairment across the globe. This revolutionary treatment opens up the possibility of combating cataracts with pharmaceutical interventions, offering a ray of hope to countless individuals afflicted by this debilitating condition.

Understanding Cataracts

Cataracts are characterized by the clouding of the eye's natural lens, caused by the disorganization of proteins within the lens structure. This disarray leads to the formation of protein clusters, which scatter light and severely impair its transmission to the retina. While cataracts are often associated with the aging process, they can also result from factors such as overexposure to sunlight, eye injuries, smoking, medical conditions like diabetes, and certain medications. Traditionally, the only effective treatment for cataracts has been surgical replacement of the clouded lens with an artificial one.

Barbara Pierscionek, Professor and Deputy Dean, Research and Innovation, Anglia Ruskin University (CREDIT: Anglia Ruskin University)

A team of international scientists, led by Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Deputy Dean (Research and Innovation) in the Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine, and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), embarked on a journey to explore a non-surgical remedy for cataracts. Their focus rested on an oxysterol compound with the potential to serve as an anti-cataract drug. Oxysterols are oxygenated derivatives of cholesterol, known for their role in regulating and transporting cholesterol within the body.

The researchers' objective was to restore the organization of proteins within the lens, thereby enhancing its ability to focus. Remarkably, their efforts were rewarded with a significant reduction in lens opacity, observed in 46% of the cases studied.

To validate the efficacy of the oxysterol compound, the research team conducted a series of advanced optical tests on a group of 35 mice. Among these, some mice were genetically altered to develop lens cloudiness, mimicking cataract formation through an alteration of their αB-crystallin or αA-crystallin proteins.

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In a groundbreaking experiment, the researchers administered a single drop of the oxysterol compound VP1-001 directly onto the ocular surface of the right eye in 26 mice. Simultaneously, the left eyes received a neutral drop of cyclodextrin. Nine mice were left untreated to serve as a control group.

The focus of this treatment was the αA- and αB-crystallin mutations that are frequently associated with cataract development in aging individuals.

The outcomes of this pioneering study were nothing short of astonishing. The treatment with the oxysterol compound VP1-001 demonstrated a remarkable improvement in refractive index profiles, a crucial optical parameter essential for maintaining high focusing capacity, in 61% of the lenses tested. Additionally, the researchers observed a substantial 1.0-grade improvement in opacity in 46% of the treated mice.

Slit lamp images of eyes from mice of different genotypes. Representative slit lamp images show the extent of lens opacity in WT lenses aged (a) 255 days, (b) 493 days, and (c) 738 days with apparent cataract gradings of 1.0, 4.0, and 3.0, respectively. (CREDIT: journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science)

Professor Barbara Pierscionek, the driving force behind this groundbreaking research and a member of the Medical Technology Research Centre at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), expressed her excitement about the findings. She stated, "This study has shown the positive effects of a compound that had been proposed as an anti-cataract drug but never before tested on the optics of the lens. It is the first research of this kind in the world."

Furthermore, Professor Pierscionek noted, "It has shown that there is a remarkable difference and improvement in optics between eyes with the same type of cataract that were treated with the compound compared to those that were not.

Improvements occurred in some types of cataract but not in all, indicating that this may be a treatment for specific cataracts. This suggests distinctions may need to be made between cataract types when developing anti-cataract medications. It is a significant step forward towards treating this extremely common condition with drugs rather than surgery."

The implications of this breakthrough are monumental. For the 65.2 million individuals globally living with cataracts, this research offers a glimmer of hope for a future where surgery may not be the only viable option. The ability to combat cataracts with pharmaceutical interventions could potentially transform the lives of countless individuals, particularly those for whom surgery is not a suitable or accessible option.

While further research and clinical trials are necessary to validate these promising results, the prospects are undeniably encouraging. The study's findings underscore the importance of personalized treatment approaches for specific types of cataracts, opening up avenues for targeted medications tailored to individual patient needs.

Cataracts Diagnosis

To determine whether you have a cataract, your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms, and perform an eye examination. Your doctor may conduct several tests, including:

Visual acuity test. A visual acuity test uses an eye chart to measure how well you can read a series of letters. Your eyes are tested one at a time, while the other eye is covered. Using a chart or a viewing device with progressively smaller letters, your eye doctor determines if you have 20/20 vision or if your vision shows signs of impairment.

Slit-lamp examination. A slit lamp allows your eye doctor to see the structures at the front of your eye under magnification. The microscope is called a slit lamp because it uses an intense line of light, a slit, to illuminate your cornea, iris, lens, and the space between your iris and cornea. The slit allows your doctor to view these structures in small sections, which makes it easier to detect any tiny abnormalities.

Retinal exam. To prepare for a retinal exam, your eye doctor puts drops in your eyes to open your pupils wide (dilate). This makes it easier to examine the back of your eyes (retina). Using a slit lamp or a special device called an ophthalmoscope, your eye doctor can examine your lens for signs of a cataract.

Applanation tonometry. This test measures fluid pressure in your eye. There are multiple different devices available to do this.

Lifestyle and home remedies

To deal with symptoms of cataracts until you decide to have surgery, try to:

  • Make sure your eyeglasses or contact lenses are the most accurate prescription possible

  • Use a magnifying glass to read if you need additional help reading

  • Improve the lighting in your home with more or brighter lamps

  • When you go outside during the day, wear sunglasses or a broad-brimmed hat to reduce glare

  • Limit your night driving

Self-care measures may help for a while, but as the cataract progresses, your vision may deteriorate further. Consult a medical professional.

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.

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Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.