By Ramon Mejia
Scientists in the United States have developed a new drug that can shrink and dissolve cataracts. The best part is that the drug can be delivered directly into the eye with a simple eye dropper, eliminating the need for expensive cataract surgery. Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become progressively cloudy, and when left untreated, can lead to total blindness.
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.
The team from the University of California, San Diego tested their new cataract treatment in three experiments: 1) On human lens in a lab, 2) On rabbits with naturally occurring cataracts, and 3) on dogs with naturally occurring cataracts. In all cases the lanosterol based eye drops decreased the size of most cataracts and in many cases decreased the size to undetectable levels.
While more research has to be done to understand why lanosterol effects cataracts the research team hopes to replicate the findings in clinical trials and offer an alternative to the only treatment that’s currently available to cataract patients - painful and often prohibitively expensive surgery.