Cataract concept. Senior woman’s eye, closeup

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CAMBRIDGE, England — Good news for individuals battling the debilitating effects from cataracts. A revolutionary breakthrough could cure the condition without the need for invasive surgery.

New research by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University shows a drug therapy that could bring relief to a third of seniors who have a visually impairing cataract. The only way currently to fix a cloudy lens is to remove it and insert a clear plastic replacement.

More than 4 million operations for cataracts are performed each year in the U.S., and 28 million worldwide. A cataract is caused by an accumulation of protein in the lens that reduces the transmission of light to the retina and it is accountable for almost half the global cases of blindness.

This latest research, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, shows how the cataract develops far earlier than possible and that it could be prevented. Led by professor Barbara Pierscionek, the team of international researchers reveals that a particular protein called aquaporin is responsible for water passage in the lens, which disrupts the optical development, leading a cataract to form.

“Cataracts are one of the main causes of vision loss and blindness worldwide, yet for many people surgery is inaccessible for various reasons,” says Pierscionek in a statement. “Our findings indicate the role of the aquaporin proteins and the crucial importance of this for the lens to work correctly and the eye to see clearly.

“Further research in this area is planned,” she continues, “but this discovery, together with our research on nanotechnologies that indicate drug therapy for cataract is possible, could potentially revolutionize the way cataract is treated, opening up the field for drug-based therapy rather than surgery. This would have exciting implications for public health.”

The research was presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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