Research Could Lead to Cataract Treatment Breakthrough
2nd April 2008
Professor Barbara Pierscionek
Research by University of Ulster academic Professor Barbara Pierscionek could lead to a major breakthrough in the treatment of cataracts - a leading cause of sight problems and one of the most common forms of blindness in the world.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye but an understanding of the structural changes in the lens that lead to cataract formation has eluded scientists for centuries. While cataracts can be surgically removed, access to this simple operation remains a difficulty in the developing world. An alternative to surgery has never been found.
Professor Pierscionek, Professor of Optometry and Vision Science at Ulster explains that this is largely because the changes in the proteins within the lens that lead to cataract formation are unknown, although recent advances in nanotechnology could change this.
“Up until now it has been difficult to bring the structural and functional aspects of the lens together because while the optics and mechanics can be measured on the whole lens, the biochemistry requires breaking the lens up to reach the proteins within, making it impossible to see how the proteins are arranged in the lens before and after cataract formation.”
Professor Pierscionek, who is based in Ulster’s Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, in collaboration with two colleagues from the University of Texas at Arlington, Professor Wei Chen who is an expert nanotechnologist and Professor Ron Schachar, an ophthalmologist and physicist are studying the potential of applying nanotechnology to the lens.
“Nanotechnology offers us the prospect of an improved understanding of the intact protein arrangements and how these may change with cataract formation. This is groundbreaking work because for the first time it offers the prospect of penetrating the intact lens and tagging the proteins in their natural arrangements to identify early structural changes that precede cataract formation. This information is vital for the development of non surgical methods for reversing the effects of cataracts.”