Cataracts Non Surgery Treatment: Eye Drops May Treat Blurred Vision, Study Finds

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Jul 23, 2015 06:00 AM EDT

DENPASAR, BALI, INDONESIA - MARCH 01: A patient sleeps after undergoing cataract surgery at Udayana Army Hospital March 1, 2014 in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. More than 400 patients received free cataract surgery at Udayana Army Hospital as part of a drive to improve the eye health of members of poorer communities in Indonesia, which has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world and also highest in South East Asia. (Photo : Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)

Cataract surgery may be a thing of the past as scientists are developing noninvasive eye drops that could clear up the "cloudiness" in the eyes brought about by the condition.

Eye drops containing lanosterol, a substance that can shrink the accumulation of proteins in the lens of the eyes which can cause cataracts, have been successfully tested in canine eyes and even in rabbits. This suggests that the findings of the research, published in the journal Nature, could one day be applied to human cataracts.

Lanosterol is a naturally occurring molecule that is present in healthy eyes. It is a substance that declumps the accumulation of protein that can blur vision. For six weeks, the scientists treated old dogs with naturally occurring cataracts with lanosterol eye drops. They found that their canine subjects had smaller cataract sizes and less cloudiness in their eyes. The same results were also found in the naturally occurring rabbit cataracts that were incubated in lab dishes.

"Our study identifies lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of lens protein aggregation and points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and treatment," the authors concluded in their research.

However, a commentary made by J. Fielding Hejtmancik of the US National Eye Institute (NEI) warned that the findings are preliminary.

"Before there are any human trials, the scientists will probably test other molecules to see if they might work even better," Hejtmancik said in a report by ABC.

Kang Zhang, coauthor of the study and an ophthalmologist at the University of California, San Diego, confirmed that they will conduct more research before subjecting the substance to trials.

"The most important implication is that we can treat cataracts with an eyedrop, not surgery," said Zhang via Live Science. "This is a preliminary study, and it needs further work and more studies, as well as confirmation by other researchers. We will study the safety of this compound, and plan human trials for treatment of cataracts."

According to NEI, eye cataracts progress slowly and will worsen over time, affecting the vision.  People who are at risk for developing cataract are people who have diabetes and those who have a personal lifestyle of smoking and consuming alcohol.

The current treatment to remove cataract is surgery, and while it may be safe, effective and one of the most common minor operations done in the United States, it can be a little expensive for those without insurance coverage, according to All About Vision.

Hejtmancik (NEI) said in an accompanying commentary that surgeries for cataract removal may increase in the next 20 years. Should there be methods that could curb the development of cataracts, necessitated surgeries could be reduced in half.

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