According to the World Health Organization, cataracts are responsible for 51 percent of world blindness, which represents over 20 million people. Unlike other eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, cataracts are treatable. By removing the deteriorated lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial intraocular lens, lost vision can be restored. In fact, in many cases eyesight can be improved so that it is clearer than ever before.
In the near future, surgery may not be the only method to remove cataracts. Using polymer science, or the study of proteins, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are developing a new cataract treatment that will not require surgery. Since the lens of the eye is made of protein and water, polymer science has helped researchers make significant strides in understanding the science of how proteins in the lens of the eye clump together to create a cataract.
University of Massachusetts Amherst polymer physicist, Professor Murugappan Muthukumar, says that all neurological diseases and diseases of the human lens are due to undesirable clumping of proteins. Based on this premise, researchers shot light into solutions hundreds of times and measured how much light came out and at what angle. Then, they used the measurements and a model of the human lens to learn more about the relationship between protein clumping and its molecular structure.
These findings could potentially open up new possibilities in the treatment of cataracts and presbyopia. The new technology has recently been licensed to a major pharmaceuticals company. Muthukumar’s goal is for eye care specialists to use non-surgical methods to intercept cataracts before they cause vision loss.
“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…Many times I have wondered what life would be like without sight, and I feel a terrible loss,” he explained. “All my professional life I have wanted to do something about it. This was my motivation” (Source: Optometry Today).