Cataract treatment with eye drops instead of surgery could be coming soon
Promising pre-clinical research shows that lanosterol can turn cloudy lenses clear
A team of researchers in China and the USA has found a way to reverse cataracts using eye drops. The study found that a substance called lanosterol improved sight in four dogs with natural, age-related cataracts. In three other dogs, the cataracts completely cleared.
Cataract is the world’s leading cause of sight loss, affecting tens of millions of people. The happen when proteins in the lens in the eye – the clear part that focuses light – clump together. The lens becomes cloudy and causes blurred or hazy vision. Complete blindness can happen if the cataracts remain untreated.
0.3 million NHS operations a year
At the moment, the only treatment for cataract is surgery to replace cloudy lenses with artificial ones. More than 300,000 people have the NHS operation each year in the UK. As most cataracts develop with age more people could be affected as the population ages.
In the current study, lead author Dr Kang Zhang and team at China’s Sichuan University discovered that lanosterol could be the key to non-surgical treatment. Lanosterol is a protein that’s found naturally in the lens.
Although we don’t fully understand how a healthy lens stays clear, a clue came when the team identified two families with an inherited form of cataract that have faults a gene known as LSS. This gene is responsible for making lanosterol.
In a series of experiment that went from testing cells in a lab dish, through to dissected rabbit eyes and on to elderly dogs, the team showed that lanosterol treatment stops proteins in the lens from clumping together and makes lenses clearer.
“This study is exciting because it opens up a new line of research to treat cataract. Although cataract surgery is generally simple and safe, any surgery is invasive,” said Ade Deane-Pratt, Research Communications Officer at Fight for Sight.
“If lanosterol treatment can be shown to be safe and effective in humans, millions of people could benefit. The authors think that clinical trials in humans could begin within two years. We look forward to the results.”
The results were published in Nature.