Scientists have developed an eye drop that can dissolve cataracts

eye-cataract_1024
A whole lot better than surgery.

Researchers in the US have developed a new drug that can be delivered directly into the eye via an eye dropper to shrink down and dissolve cataracts – the leading cause of blindness in humans.

While the effects have yet to be tested on humans, the team from the University of California, San Diego hopes to replicate the findings in clinical trials and offer an alternative to the only treatment that’s currently available to cataract patients – painful and often prohibitively expensive surgery.

Affecting tens of millions of people worldwide, cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become progressively cloudy, and when left untreated, can lead to total blindness. This occurs when the structure of the crystallin proteins that make up the lens in our eyes deteriorates, causing the damaged or disorganised proteins to clump and form a milky blue or brown layer. While cataracts cannot spread from one eye to the other, they can occur independently in both eyes.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes cataracts, but most cases are related to age, with the US National Eye Institute reporting that by the age of 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract, or have had cataract surgery. While unpleasant, the surgical procedure to remove a cataract is very simple and safe, but many communities in developing countries and regional areas do not have access to the money or facilities to perform it, which means blindness is inevitable for the vast majority of patients.

According to the Fred Hollows Foundation, an estimated 32.4 million people around the world today are blind, and 90 percent of them live in developing countries. More than half of these cases were caused by cataracts, which means having an eye drop as an alternative to surgery would make an incredible difference.

The new drug is based on a naturally-occurring steroid called lanosterol. The idea to test the effectiveness of lanosterol on cataracts came to the researchers when they became aware of two children in China who had inherited a congenital form of cataract, which had never affected their parents. The researchers discovered that these siblings shared a mutation that stopped the production of lanosterol, which their parents lacked.

So if the parents were producing lanosterol and didn’t get cataracts, but their children weren’t producing lanosterol and did get cataracts, the researchers proposed that the steroid might halt the defective crystallin proteins from clumping together and forming cataracts in the non-congenital form of the disease.

They tested their lanosterol-based eye drops in three types of experiments. They worked with human lens in the lab and saw a decrease in cataract size. They then tested the effects on rabbits, and according to Hanae Armitage at Science Mag, after six days, all but two of their 13 patients had gone from having severe cataracts to mild cataracts or no cataracts at all. Finally, they tested the eye drops on dogs with naturally occurring cataracts. Just like the human lens in the lab and the rabbits, the dogs responded positively to the drug, with severe cataracts shrinking away to nothing, or almost nothing.

The results have been published in Nature.

“This is a really comprehensive and compelling paper – the strongest I’ve seen of its kind in a decade,” molecular biologist Jonathan King from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told Armitage. While not affiliated with this study, King has been involved in cataract research for the past 15 years. “They discovered the phenomena and then followed with all of the experiments that you should do – that’s as biologically relevant as you can get.”

The next step is for the researchers to figure out exactly how the lanosterol-based eye drops are eliciting this response from the cataract proteins, and to progress their research to human trials.

Flexible spinal cord implants will let paralyzed people walk

Engadget
Jon Fingas1/11/2015

EPFL's spinal cord implant prototype

© EPFL EPFL’s spinal cord implant prototype

Doctors dream of helping the paralzyed walk through implants that stimulate their spinal cords, but current technology makes that impossible; these stiff, unnatural gadgets usually end up damaging or inflaming nervous tissue over time. Swiss researchers may have just solved this problem once and for all, though. Their bendy e-Dura implant combines flexible electrodes (made of platinum and silicon microbeads), cracked gold electronic tracks and fluidic microchannels to deliver both electrical impulses and chemicals while mimicking the spine’s movements and avoiding friction. Paralyzed rats in lab tests could both walk again after a few weeks and keep wearing their implants after two months.

It’ll be a while before e-Dura implants go into human field trials and reach hospitals. With that said, scientists believe the technology’s potential extends well beyond overcoming spinal cord injuries. It could treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, not to mention reduce chronic pain for numerous conditions. This isn’t a cure, strictly speaking, but it would let many people regain mobility (and some semblance of a normal life) without complications or having to resort to external devices like exoskeletons.

EPFL

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Published February 17, 2014

FoxNews.com
  • LUNGS.JPG

In a breakthrough that could one day revolutionize transplant medicine, researchers have successfully grown human lungs in a lab for the first time, Medical News Today reported.

Using portions of lungs from two deceased children, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston created a scaffold-like structure by stripping one set of lungs down to just collagen and elastin – the main components in connective tissue.

The researchers then gathered cells from the other set of lungs and applied them to the scaffolding, before placing it in a chamber filled with nutritious liquid. Four weeks later, the team had a complete human lung – and they were able to successfully repeat the procedure using another set of lungs.

The researchers first developed this technique in 2010, and have since tested the method on rat lungs and pig lungs before testing it on human lungs.

“It’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it. You don’t run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you’ve proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,”  researcher Dr. Joan Nichols said.

Though the researchers are excited about their discovery, they said it could take a minimum of 12 years before the use of lab-generated lungs in human transplants becomes a reality

First artificial retina approved in U.S.

First artificial retina approved in U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved first artificial retina. The device is meant to aid people with a disorder called advanced retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that slowly damages cells on the retina that give the eye sensitivity to light. Over time, this reduces the eye’s ability to distinguish light from dark, and eventually leads to blindness.

The newly approved artificial retina, dubbed the Argus II system, involves a surgically implanted retina and a pair of eyeglasses with a small video camera and video processor. Images from the video camera are transmitted to the brain through 55 electrodes on the implanted retina, which then translates the images into something the patient can see.

The Argus II system was approved in Europe in 2011 and costs about $100,000. The device’s manufacturer hopes to have the artificial retina covered by Medicare and available in the U.S. later this year.

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