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More than 32.4 million people around the world are blind, and more than half of these cases are caused by cataracts. A cataract is the clouding of one or both eyes, which obstructs vision and usually leads to blindness. However, scientists this week have cooked up a new drug that can be dropped directly into the eye, dissolving the cataract (woohoo!).
Cataracts are not so threatening to us young folk in New Zealand, but this is great news for developing countries with poor health systems. It will prove to be accessible and easy; the process just uses a simple eye dropper to remove a cataract, rather than having surgery.
Professor Kang Zhang for the University of California San Diego has been using these eye drops on isolated lenses from rabbits. The eye drops consist of lanosterol, a naturally-occurring steroid which scientists have manipulated to prevent cataract-causing proteins to clump together. “We went on to test the effect of the eye drops in dogs with cataracts. We gave them eye drops twice a day for six weeks and found it had reduced the effect of cataract severity,” reported Zhang. Apart from losing a couple of ophthalmologists, this is a great alternative to surgery, providing an inexpensive and safe treatment.