Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, affecting over 20.5 million individuals over the age of 40. Recent studies in Scotland reveal exciting new technology that may revolutionize how cataracts are diagnosed.
Professor Rory Duncan leads the Institute for Biological Chemistry, Biophysics & Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. With the help of lead researcher, Professor Des Smith, and a group of scientists, Duncan believes that they may have developed an innovative method to help diagnose and monitor cataracts before they even form.
The theory is that light-emitting diode (LED) technology will cause proteins in the lens to produce a florescence signal. When clinicians plot changes in the eye’s photochemistry as the cataract forms, they can create an objective scale for diagnosis. Currently, the team is conducting studies in pigs to test their findings, but they plan to begin safety studies on humans in the future.
Cataracts are caused by oxidative damage to the proteins in the lens of the eye. As we age, oxidative damage accumulates through environmental factors such as toxins and pollution or lifestyle factors such as over-exposure to the sun. Because the new LED technology identifies the extent of oxidative damage, Duncan and Smith expect that the diagnostic tool will help ophthalmologists determine the “true age” of patients’ eyes instead of the age on their birth certificate.
Smith hopes that their research will bring them “one step closer to developing a non-invasive treatment for cataracts.” Duncan agrees with Smith and concludes, “While this stage is not a cure for cataracts, we believe it could have wide-reaching benefits such as limiting the symptoms experienced by our increasingly ageing population and those living with diabetes. It could significantly diminish the pressure on our health service.”
Further research will determine whether non-invasive treatment is possible (Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology).