BY: ZOE MELNYK
The solution for deteriorating vision from cataracts used to require a difficult surgery that many people in the world don’t have access to. Now, it might be as simple as using a new eye drop.
Cataracts are basically clumps of crystallin that cloud over the eye causing blurry vision, mostly by blocking light from entering the lens. It’s the leading cause of blindness around the world, currently affecting roughly 20 million people, many of which either don’t have access to surgery or chose not to undergo the challenging surgery.
According to an article in NIH, signs of cataracts can be spotted as early as someone’s forties or fifties, but don’t usually take full effect until one’s seventies. Factors such as diabetes, smoking, and too much direct eye contact with the sun can also speed up the process and jump start the cataract process.
In a recent study, scientists set out to find a chemical, or set of chemicals, that could attach to the soluble form of crystallin and ultimately keep them from sticking together.
Another important factor for the study was that the melting point of crystallin increases as they cluster together, which means that in order to find a chemical to defog the lens, there also needed to be some sort of process to bring the melting point back down to a regular range.
After studying thousands of molecules, researchers stumbled upon cells grown in petri dishes referred to as “chemical 21” that could actually break apart the clusters of crystallin already formed while also preventing any new clusters from building.
The test began with mice that were both genetically prone to cataracts, as well as mice that were already affected by the cataracts from old age. The tests yielded high success rates in reducing blurred lenses and preventing cataracts from forming.
Although this seems like a sure fix for cataracts, the scientists can’t prove yet if the vision of the mice actually improved, only that the lens became clearer. The scientists remain hopeful though, citing that “these findings suggest an approach to treating cataracts by stabilizing α-crystallins.”