Posted January 3, 2014
Cataracts used to be considered a health problem that affected older people, but now doctors are diagnosing younger Americans in their 40s and 50s. Fortunately, scientists have discovered new clues to help them understand how cataracts form, which could lead to new treatment solutions.
Medical professionals describe cataracts as a clouding of the eye’s lens, and it’s considered a normal part of aging. It’s considered the primary cause of blindness worldwide. In the United States, approximately 1 in 6 people over age 40 and at least 50 percent of those over age 80 are diagnosed with cataracts. Some people are born with cataracts, and this congenital health issue affects about 1 in 5,000 children.
Over the years, cataracts have been treated in a variety of ways. Currently, outpatient surgery is the most common treatment solution. Annually, more than 3.3 million cataract surgeries are performed, during which eye surgeons remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens.
Research Reveals New Clues to Cataracts
Years ago scientists discovered that the eye’s lens is able to focus and maintain transparency due to a unique balance of three types of crystallin proteins. Two of these proteins are considered structural, and the third is described as a chaperone because it inhibits the other two from joining together. In a new research study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, scientists created atomic-scale views of a protein that is needed to maintain transparency in the lens of the eye. They discovered that the eye has a limited number of chaperone proteins, and when the supply is depleted, the other proteins join together and cloud up the lens.
Medical professionals believe this new research will help them develop new drugs and treatment options for cataracts, and could also provide new insights on how to prevent or delay the development of cataracts.
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