The future is truly now. Technology is advancing at speeds we can hardly keep up with. With a new iPhone being released every six months, and three-dimensional printers being used in hospitals to print body parts and organs, it isn’t hard to imagine that a new cure for cataracts is on the horizon in the form of eye drops.
Until now, the only cure for fully developed cataracts was dangerous and risky cataract removal surgery. With these new eye drops in development, we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that they will soon be available and will soon make surgery obsolete.
What Are Cataracts?
We have a full length article informing you on all you need to know about cataracts on our blog (actually, we have many), but we’ll go over the main bullet points here.
A cataract is a cloudy or gray deposit that occurs on the lens of the eye. By 2020, it’s expected that 30 million people worldwide will have cataracts.
Scientists and doctors have been baffled. To this day, no one truly knows what the exact cause, or causes, of cataracts are. There are theories, of course; one of which is that cataracts are a result of a crystalline protein build up in the eye. As the eye produces more protein, it pushes the old protein down, which then becomes gray or cloudy.
When the protein has built up and formed a cataract, it prevents light from entering through the normally clear lens. The cataract will continue to grow if not treated. Cataracts normally affect your central vision the most. If allowed to form even more, it could begin to affect your peripheral vision as well.
The only current cure for cataracts is to surgically remove them. The entire lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. The surgery is non-invasive, but none the less has risks. There is concern over cataract surgery destroying the patient’s stem cells and causing long-term eye conditions. Some patients have reported new cataracts forming on their artificial lens after surgery.
How Do the Eye Drops Work?
It probably didn’t go over your head that scientists have but a cloudy (pardon the pun) idea when it comes to cataracts. How can an eye drop be in development if scientists don’t even know what the problem is? The answer to that is simple; a group of scientists found a thread, pulled at it, and something amazing was at the other end.
It all started with two small children in China who had inherited congenital cataracts from their parents who did not have congenital cataracts. Upon a closer examination, the researchers found that the siblings shared a mutation that stopped the production of a natural steroid called lanosterol.
Using some surprisingly simple logic, the researchers thought if the parents could produce lanosterol and not get cataracts, but the children couldn’t produce lanosterol and did get cataracts, then there must be some sort of link between the two.
The researchers proposed the idea that the lanosterol in the body was stopping the crystalline protein buildup in non-congenital cataracts (adult cataracts). They then set out to find a way to get this naturally-produced steroid into the eye.
They have come up with a drug that is to be taken in the form of an eye drop. The lanosterol eye drop drug was first tested on human lenses (lenses not attached to any human body) and proved to be very successful. They found a decrease in cataract size in the human lens.
The next logical step was to test this eye drop on something living. Using 13 rabbits with cataracts, the researchers tested the eye drops. Are you ready for the results?
Eleven out of the 13 rabbits showed incredible improvement in their cataracts. Most of the rabbits started off with severe cataracts and ended with mild or no cataracts at all.
The same test was also done on dogs, whom are prone to develop cataracts as they age. The results were consistent with those found in the human lenses and the rabbits. The cataracts in the dogs shrunk to a minimal size and in some, the cataract disappeared completely. The natural next step in their research will be to conduct human trials to observe the short and long term effects of the eye drop.
Several other researchers have also been developing similar eye drops containing lutein, which have done well in animal trials. These lutein eye drops will also need to be tested on humans. It will still be some time before these eye drops hit the drugstore shelves. But the immediate takeaway is that there is hope for a cure that isn’t surgery.
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What Do These Eye Drops Mean for Vision Health?
Aside from being a strong contender against cataract removal surgery, these new eye drops will change the world of vision health because they will make vision health affordable.
For many in our own country and other countries without healthcare, affording surgery for something as seemingly minute as cataracts is almost laughable. Surgery for an impeding cataract is not even given a second thought if you have more pressing bills to pay.
An eye drop that can dissolve cataracts will make vision care accessible to a lot of people. Seeing as cataracts mostly affect older people with many different illnesses that come with aging, taking a load off your medical bills’ plate is nothing but good news.
Scientists from all over the world have entered the race to find a safe eye drop that can dissolve cataracts. With human trials being conducted in the near future, we can all hope for a better solution to treating and curing cataracts.
Let’s put an end to risky treatments like surgery, which only work by removing the entire lens. Why not just remove the whole eye to avoid any other eye conditions? These eye drops will open the doors to a whole world of medicine that’ll help the body heal itself, instead of just taking bits and pieces out.