Cataracts affect tens of millions of people around the world and, presently, the only treatment is surgery. However, a promising new trial on dogs could take a lot of the pain and time out of curing the leading cause of blindness.
A Chinese research team investigated a naturally-occurring molecule called lanosterol, which they suspected might impede cataract-forming proteins from clumping in normal eyes.
After testing the molecule on cells, they moved on to animal trials using dogs with naturally-occurring cataracts.
After six weeks of treatment, the size and characteristic cloudiness of the eye growths had decreased, the researchers reported.
“Our study identifies lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of lens protein aggregation and points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and treatment,” the researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou reported in Nature.
Cataracts form when the eye’s lens grows cloudy, a condition that affects millions of people and accounts for more than half of all cases of blindness worldwide. As the population ages predictions are that the number of cataract surgeries in the next 20 years will double.
While current cataract surgery is straightforward and very effective, it can be cost prohibitive for many people, particularly in developing nations.
The hope with this treatment is that the sight-restoring molecule it could be administered via simple eye drops, which would greatly improve outcomes around the world.
In an accompanying commentary in Nature, J Fielding Hejtmancik, a scientist at the US National Eye Institute cautioned that the findings were “very preliminary”.
“Before there are any human trials, the scientists will probably test other molecules to see if they might work even better,” he said.
Have you or someone you love experienced cataracts? Does it run in your family?