Study: steroid shows potential for treating cataracts without surgery | St. Louis Public Radio

Study: steroid shows potential for treating cataracts without surgery

Nov 6, 2015

Scientists have identified a chemical that could one day be used in eye drops to treat cataracts — potentially eliminating the need for expensive surgery, the only treatment option currently available.

In a healthy eye, light passes through a clear, transparent lens to the retina. Cataracts cause the lens to cloud over, impairing vision.
Credit National Institutes of Health

The research team was led by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor but included researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington University in St. Louis. The group found that eye drops made with a type of steroid could partially reverse cataracts in mice.

Washington University ophthalmology researcher Usha Andley said most of the animals in the study responded to treatment. "This opens the door for developing ophthalmic drugs that can treat cataract(s) and remove the need for surgery," Andley said.

Cataracts are very common, particularly in older people. They form when proteins, called crytallins, in the lens of the eye start to aggregate, causing the normally transparent lens to cloud over. "Solubility of these proteins is known to decline with age," Andley said. By age 80, more than half of Americans develop cataracts.

Globally, cataracts affect more than 20 million people, most of whom do not have access to surgical treatment. "There's a huge unmet medical need," Andley said. "Untreated cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world."

Andley said having a way to treat cataracts without surgery could change that.

And, according to Andley and her co-authors, the same class of compounds may have potential for treating other conditions involving amyloids, or insoluble aggregations of proteins — like Alzheimer's disease.

The current study is published in the journal Science.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience