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Could Cataract Surgery Soon Be Unnecessary?

cataract surgery

A new study from the University of California-San Diego has shown how cataract surgery could one day be a thing of the past. That could be great news for the 22 million people in the United States and the millions more around the world who suffer with this vision problem.


Cataracts are the main cause of blindness in the world and the most common cause of vision loss among people who are older than 40. This eye condition occurs when proteins in the lens of the eye clump together and obstruct a small portion of the lens. Over time, the clump can grow larger and make one’s vision increasingly cloudy.

Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States, with about 3 million people undergoing the operation each year, according to Prevent Blindness America. If the findings of this latest study are any indication, an alternative to surgery could eventually be available for cataract patients, especially those who don’t have access to surgical procedures, as is frequently the case in foreign countries.

Cataract study
The research team used a solution containing lanosterol, a natural steroid that is found in abundance in the lens of the eye. They chose lanosterol to study because they found that children who had an inherited form of cataracts had a gene mutation that stopped the enzyme responsible for the steroid’s production.

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Based on the assumption that lanosterol would stop the formation of clumped proteins, the investigators conducted three experiments. One was conducted using human lens cells, the second involved rabbits, and the third included dogs.

  • In the human cells, lanosterol reduced protein clumping
  • In rabbits, lanosterol reduced cataracts and improved lens transparency, which improved vision
  • In dogs with cataracts, lanosterol as both an injection and as eye drops reduced protein clumping and improved lens transparency

Since surgery is the only way available currently to treat cataracts, introduction of an eye drop would be a significant breakthrough. The study’s authors concluded that their work “identifies lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of lens protein aggregation and points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and treatment.”

How to help prevent cataracts
You can take numerous steps to help prevent the development of cataracts. A number of studies have indicated that certain vitamins may have a role in prevention. For example:

  • A new (July 2015) study supports previous findings that B vitamins may have a positive impact on lens health and the development of cataracts.
  • Another new report noted that “vitamin C intake should be advocated for the primary prevention of cataract.”
  • The authors of a June 2015 study in Clinical Ophthalmology stated that vitamin D deficiency was seen in individuals with posterior subcapsular cataract (a common form), suggesting that increasing the level of vitamin D intake could reduce its development
  • Vitamin E intake, both dietary and supplemental, and “high level of serum tocopherol might be significantly associated” with a reduced risk of age-related cataract as noted in a recent study in Public Health Nutrition

In addition, progression of cataracts may be slowed by not smoking and avoiding significant amounts of ultraviolet light. UV-protection sunglasses are recommended for everyone.

Brown CJ, Akaichi F. Vitamin D deficiency and posterior subcapsular cataract. Clinical Ophthalmology 2015 Jun 16; 9:1093-98
Glaser TS et al. The association of dietary lutein plus zeaxanthin and B vitamins with cataracts in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study: AREDS Report No. 37 Ophthalmology 2015 Jul; 122(7): 1471-79
Wei L et al. Association of vitamin C with the risk of age-related cataract: a meta-analysis. Acta Ophthalmology 2015 Mar 4
Zhang Y et al. Vitamin E and risk of age-related cataract: a meta-analysis. Public Health Nutrition 2015 Jan 16:1-11
Zhao L et al. Lanosterol reverse protein aggregation in cataracts. Nature 2015; published online 22 July 2015