Around the world, millions of people suffer from cataracts, and in the United States, more than half of those who reach age 80 or older will receive cataract surgery before their eightieth birthday. This surgery is necessary to prevent blindness, and although it is common and safe, doctors have long been looking for an alternative to treat cataracts. Scientists from the University of California, San Diego may have finally found one.
Based on the study of two young children in China who suffer from cataracts, scientists have been able to determine that the natural steroid lanosterol may be the key to taking care of cataracts without surgery. Researchers came upon this discovery when they learned that these children had a genetic mutation that prevented their bodies from producing the steroid. Once this was discovered, work began on developing a method to apply lanosterol to the eyes of cataract patients so as to see if the steroid could shrink or eliminate cataracts.
Thus far, tests of eye drops that contain lanosterol have been quite promising. Although human trials have not yet begun, scientists have already observed positive changes in rabbits and dogs that suffer from cataracts. In fact, the vast majority of animals who have been treated with the lanosterol drops have either experienced a drastic reduction in the size of their cataracts or the disappearance of them altogether.
Currently, scientists are uncertain as to why lanosterol seems effective in the treatment of cataracts. They theorize that the steroid prevents certain proteins from clumping together and forming the cataracts. Researchers are investigating this phenomenon more closely, with the hopes of developing a treatment for humans that will finally make surgery an optional treatment for cataracts and not a necessity.
Developing a successful non-surgical cataract treatment will be a great advance not only in terms of comfort and convenience. Around the world, millions of people in developing countries suffer from cataracts, and surgery is not available to them for reasons of cost or availability. When left untreated, cataracts eventually cause blindness, so an easy cataract treatment such as lanosterol drops could potentially help millions of people across the globe retain their eyesight.
It should be noted that despite the promising test results, it will be some time before these eye drops are available even if they prove to be a good way to treat cataracts. Scientists continue to press forward, and more developments are expected in the near future.