Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Fifty-one percent of blindness cases in the world are due to untreated cataracts, according to the World Health Organization. Surgery to replace the natural lens with a synthetic one is currently the most common treatment. The new research shows the possibility for more preventative and non-invasive options in the future.
The Mechanics of Cataract Formation
The study discovered what happens on the molecular level when cataracts are formed. The process of the eye interpreting light requires that the lens stay transparent. To do this, several water-soluble proteins called crystallins are at work in the lens and cornea. One of these proteins acts as a “chaperone,” preventing other proteins from clumping together. However, the number of chaperone proteins is finite. The lens gets cloudy when proteins are allowed to clump, resulting in a cataract.
The researchers suggest that this discovery could lead to new treatments for both before and after the formation of cataracts. The next step would be to develop targeted drug treatment. The drug could prevent the proteins from clumping and reinforce chaperone proteins. Though researchers aren’t near the development stage yet, the options opened up by this study are promising. Future treatments could prevent cataracts resulting from any of their many causes. These include aging, genetics, drug use, trauma, and UV light exposure. Non-invasive options would be a very important development for those without access to lens replacement.
Editor’s note: At Natural Eye Care, we have information on natural approaches to preventing and managing cataracts. Learn about symptoms and causes of cataracts.
Source: Kingsley C, Brubaker W, Markovic S. Preferential and Specific Binding of Human αB-Crystallin to a Cataract-Related Variant of γS-Crystallin. Structure. 2013.