Eye drops containing lanosterol could increase lens transparency in dogs with cataracts, a first step towards a drug treatment for the disease, which is currently only treatable by surgery, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The study was carried out by researchers from universities and institutions in China and the United States.
The therapeutic potential of lanosterol, a small molecule that is normally found in the healthy lens, was realised after researchers studied two families with congenital cataracts and found them to carry mutations in a gene involved in the manufacture of lanosterol, according to the study report.
Normal versions of the molecule could help prevent cataract-causing proteins from clumping together in cell culture models and other experiments, researchers said. However, the abnormal version, found in the families, could not achieve this, explaining why members of the families developed cataracts.
Based on the findings, researchers gave eye drops containing lanosterol to dogs with naturally occurring cataracts to see if it could alleviate the symptoms.
After six weeks of treatment, opacity decreased and cataract severity was reduced, according to Prof Kang Zhang, who led the study. Similar results were seen in dissected rabbit cataractous lenses treated in a similar way.
The study showed that lanosterol played a key role in inhibiting lens protein aggregation and reducing cataract formation, suggesting a novel strategy for the prevention and treatment of cataracts, said Zhang.