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Treating Cataracts With Eye Drops: A Potential Alternative to Surgery?

Last updated July 27, 2015

With this significant data at hand, the researchers concluded that the “study identifies lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of lens protein aggregation and points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and treatment."


A new study at the University of California found that an eye drop solution containing a natural steroid lessened cataracts in dogs. Currently, the preferred method of treatment for cataracts involves surgery. However, surgery is not readily available in certain countries, and a need for an alternative therapy is high.

The lens of the eye contains crystallin proteins that permit the eye to change focus and retain clarity in the lens. Cataracts are a condition of the eyes that develops when the crystalline proteins are disturbed, and clumps of these proteins starts to form. This formation causes the lens to become cloudy, obstructing vision.

Lanosterol, a vital building block of several steroids in the body, also takes residence in the lens. An enzyme known as lanosterol synthase makes lanosterol. It was found that children who had a genetic form of cataracts showed the same gene mutation that blocked this enzyme. With this vital finding, the researchers hypothesized that eyes administered with lanosterol would stop cataracts from forming. Their guess proved to be promising when three sets of experiments showed decreased clumping in crystalline proteins, thereby decreasing cataract formation.

The study, which was published in Nature,showed the following:

  • In human lens cells, lanosterol reduced clumping of crystallin proteins. Treatment with lanosterol decreased cataracts and improved lens clarity in rabbits.
  • Lanosterol solution, administered by either eye drops or injection, showed the same improvement in dogs with cataracts as it did in the human lens cells and rabbits.

With this significant data at hand, the researchers concluded that thestudy identifies lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of lens protein aggregation and points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and treatment."

If this therapy proves effective in humans as well, this finding may revolutionize the treatment of cataracts around the world, providing hope for better vision for those affected.

Written by Melissa Pillote

Primary Reference:

Zhao, L., Chen, X.J., Zhu, J., Xi, Y.B., Yang, X., Hu, L.D., Ouyang, H., Patel, S.H., 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, Xun, Grob, S. (2015). Lanosterol reverses protein aggregation in cataracts. Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature14650

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 27, 2015
Last updated: July 27, 2015