Researchers in the US have recently developed a new drug that will ultimately shrink down and dissolve cataracts – the leading cause of human blindness that affects tens of millions of people worldwide.
Mind you, this is a whole lot better than surgery!
Cataract is a condition that clouds the eyes of tens of millions of people around the world and nearly 17.2% of Americans over the age of 40. Usually, the only treatment is surgery—lasers or scalpels cut away the molecular grout that builds in the eye as cataracts develop, and surgeons sometimes replace the lens. But now, a team of scientists and ophthalmologists has tested a solution in dogs that may be able to dissolve the cataract right out of the eye’s lens. And the solution is itself a solution: a steroid-based eye drop.
The new drug is based on a naturally-occurring steroid called lanosterol. The idea to test the effectiveness of lanosterol on cataracts came to the researchers when they became aware of two children in China who had inherited a congenital form of cataract, which had never affected their parents. The researchers discovered that these siblings shared a mutation that stopped the production of lanosterol, which their parents lacked.
So if the parents were producing lanosterol and didn’t get cataracts, but their children weren’t producing lanosterol and did get cataracts, the researchers proposed that the steroid might halt the defective crystallin proteins from clumping together and forming cataracts in the non-congenital form of the disease.
They tested their lanosterol-based eye drops in three types of experiments. They worked with human lens in the lab and saw a decrease in cataract size. They then tested the effects on rabbits, and according to Hanae Armitage at Science Mag, after six days, all but two of their 13 patients had gone from having severe cataracts to mild cataracts or no cataracts at all. Finally, they tested the eye drops on dogs with naturally occurring cataracts.
Just like the human lens in the lab and the rabbits, the dogs responded positively to the drug, with severe cataracts shrinking away to nothing, or almost nothing. The results were then published by Nature.
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.”
The next step is for the researchers to figure out exactly how the lanosterol-based eye drops are eliciting this response from the cataract proteins, and to progress their research to human trials.