An eyedrop treatment could reverse cataracts in days.
Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens of the eye become bent and mis-shaped causing a sufferer's vision to become cloudy and blurred. Up to one-fifth of individuals aged over 40 are afflicted by cataracts, which also cause half of all cases of blindness worldwide.
The usual treatment is to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a plastic replica. But as the population ages, and more patients need surgery, eye clinics could struggle to cope.
In a study published this week in Nature, University of California San Diego scientist Ling Zhao and her colleagues were able to isolate genes linked to cataract formation. Using an eyedrop containing the compound lanosterol, they were able to treat and in some cases reverse cataracts in dogs and rabbits after just six days.
The study raises the prospect that it might be possible to prevent or even reverse cataracts in humans using similar topical eyedrop treatments.
Dr Chris Smith of The Naked Scientists told This Way Up's Simon Morton that scientists are also interested in the effect that this chemical could have on other important conditions that involve accumulations of misfolded proteins, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease.