Scientists have discovered that a solution containing lanosterol is capable of preventing cataract formation. Lanosterol could potentially be used as a new cataract treatment, or even as a preventive measure.
A recent study published in the journal Nature found that a naturally occurring compound in the eye, lanosterol, is capable of preventing and reversing cataract formation. Given that surgery is currently the most effective option, the possibility of a new cataract treatment in the form of an eye drop is extremely exciting.
The lens of the human eye is made up of proteins, called crystallins, which interact and form a specific structure. This structure is vital to the transparency and refractive index of the lens. Any disruption to the interaction between or within the crystallins can cause the whole structure to crumble. The broken proteins form clumps that stick together like a film over the lens, causing the poor vision associated with cataracts.
Lanosterol is a molecule that is also found in the lens and is made by the enzyme lanosterol synthase. In this study, the researchers simulated the cataract forming protein clumps in human lens cells and added lanosterol in a solution that mimics the natural environment of the lens. They observed that the lanosterol solution was able to successfully break up these clumps. The researchers then took cataract affected lenses from a rabbit model and tested them with the lanosterol solution. The results showed the cataract affected lens to be clearer after the addition of the lanosterol, indicating again that the solution was effective in reversing cataract formation. Finally the researchers tested their lanosterol solution on a canine model, once again demonstrating a great improvement in the clarity of the lens and a reduction in cataracts. The scientists believe that lanosterol is effective because its structure lets it interact with the protein clumps in a way that eventually breaks it up. Though much more testing must be done, including clinical trials, lanosterol is promising as a new cataract treatment and preventive measure.
Zhao, L, Chen, X-J, Zhu, J, Xi, Y-B, Yang, X, Hu, L-D, Ouyang, H, Patel, SH, Jin, X, Lin, D, Wu, F, Flagg, K, Cai, H, Li, G, Cao, G, Lin, Y, Chen, D, Wen, C, Chung, C, Wang, Y, Qiu, A, Yeh, E, Wang, W, Hu, X, Grob, S, Abagyan, R, Su, Z, Tjondro, HC, Zhao, X-J, Luo, H, Hou, R, Jefferson, J, Perry, P, Gao, W, Kozak, I, Granet, D, Li, Y, Sun, X, Wang, J, Zhang, L, Liu, Y, Yan, Y-B, Zhang, K. “Lanosterol reverses protein aggregation in cataracts.” Nature. doi:10.1038/nature14650, published online 22 July 2015
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Written by Sujani Ganeshanantham, MSc