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The Future of Non-Surgical Cataract Treatment
As research continues on various vision challenges, more promising results come to light (literally) everyday. One of the many encouraging research outcomes is the report of a recent technological breakthrough regarding the possible avoidance of cataract surgery in the near future.
It is the culmination of painstaking experimentation and treatment of the binding proteins that clump together to cloud the eye lens and affect healthy vision with the development of cataracts. In addition, this same treatment may also assist in reducing the effects of presbyopia or farsightedness which results in the blurring of near vision.
This research could revolutionize the future of sight and help those in their later years avoid invasive procedures that always hold the risk of side effects and infection.
The Cataract Dilemma
Developing cataracts is a common occurrence as people age, with at least one eye affected in about half of those over eighty years old. It is a clouding of the lens, which is a clear part of the eye responsible for light focus and image conveyance on to the retina. As light passes through the lens and to the retina, nerve signals transfer the image to the brain and you see the finished product all in less than a nano-second. However, if the lens is not clear the image result can be blurred.
Symptoms of cataracts include not only blurriness but also:
The source of cataracts vary with scientists estimating many causes coming from the peripheral effect of conditions or habits such as diabetes, smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity, poor diet, trauma, genes, wear and tear or long term use of some medicines such as steroids.
Up until now, treatment for cataracts consisted of either prescription drugs to reduce further clouding or surgery where the clumped proteins that cause the cloudiness are scrapped off. Both of these come with risks and side effects that could make such treatment painful and uncomfortable.
This new research may help cataract patients avoid these treatments with a more effective, less invasive approach.
Understanding Proteins and Biopolymers
Polymer physicist, Murugappan Muthukumar is the Wilmer D. Barrett Distinguished Professor in Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Massachusetts who has dedicated much of his research to vision challenges. Now, his recent work has come to fruition with the development of new eye drops that may reduce cataracts without the need for surgery.
Focusing on the basics of vision, Muthukumar comments that the human lens is,
“a collection of proteins, of biopolymers, and one of my research areas is how light passes through the lens and how proteins and biopolymers in it scatter light. Characterizing light-scattering is a classic problem in polymer physics.”
As reported by the University of Massachusetts,
“Muthukumar and colleagues shot light into protein solutions hundreds of times, measuring how much came out and at what angle. Using these measurements and a simplified model of how molecules are arranged in the human lens, they discovered the relationship between protein clumping and its molecular basis.”
A Scientist’s Mission
Muthukumar’s mission to help alleviate vision challenges is a personal one. He describes his motivation,
“While I was growing up in India, I was deeply disturbed by the sight of too many blind people, unable to work and reduced to begging. It was heart-wrenching and still this feeling of distress is permanently etched in my memory....All my professional life I have wanted to do something about it. This was my motivation. I hope this discovery will benefit those ill-positioned people and allow them to see the rest of the universe surrounding them.”
This new research by Professor Muthukumar and collaborating researcher Nathan Ravi of Washington University was also made possible by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. As more experiments are underway it may be a short time before this new application is available. In addition, Muthukumar continues research with physician Dr. Hemant Khanna at the UMass Medical School to address retinal blindness in children using the same process.
Overall, this is yet another group of unsung heroes in a world of more attention being paid to mediocrity rather than the groundbreaking work of science.