Melbourne: In what could be called a major breakthrough, Australian scientists claim to have created the world`s first drug which can prevent blindness from cataracts.
Cataracts are formed when a protein, known as calpain, clouds the eye lens and impairs vision. The protein can be activated by various triggers, including ageing. Currently, the only treatment is to have the cloudy lens surgically removed and replaced with a synthetic lens.
Now, a team, led by Adelaide University, says this is for the first time that a non-surgical cure for the debilitating condition has been discovered.
The scientists say the new drug compound developed in collaboration with Calpain Therapeutics -- which targets the calpain protein in eye tissue -- has been effective in preliminary trials, but is yet to be tested on humans.
The treatment would take the form of drops or cream to be placed in the eye each night before bed, say the scientists.
Lead inventor Prof Andrew Abell told `The Advertiser` that the drug could slow cataract growth so significantly that surgery might never be required.
"Optometrists can tell very early on whether you have signs of cataracts, well before they affect vision. By using the drug early, you could slow their development so much it would not actually develop," he was quoted as saying.
Dr Tim Lovell, the CEO of Calpain Therapeutics said: "Our drug could be either drops or a cream that you put in your eyes each night before you go to sleep.
"Through a routine eye exam, ophthalmologists can see the early stages of a cataract forming, likely before the person has any idea they have it. Once it`s detected, then you could start to use the drug to slow its progress."
He added: "Because we know that if you have a cataract in one eye you will most likely get one in the other eye, you could start to apply the drug to both eyes, delaying the onset of a cataract in one while slowing the growth of the cataract that has been diagnosed."