New Treatment Makes Old Eyes Young Again
Experimental Gel May Eventually Treat Cataracts, Eliminate Bifocals
Sept. 9, 2003 -- Imagine having the eyes you had when you were
20. An experimental new material promises to do just that and may one day
eliminate the need for bifocals by helping old eyes feel and see like new
Researchers say the gel-like material may eventually be used to
replace old, aging lenses in the eye; offering a new way to treat cataracts as
well as presbyopia or "old vision." Nearly everyone over 40 suffers
from some form of presbyopia, which makes it more difficult to read without
"This could represent a totally different approach to the
treatment of cataracts and presbyopia," says researcher Nathan Ravi, MD,
PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Washington
University in St. Louis, in a news release. "As we age, the lens of the eye
gradually loses its ability to adjust its focus.
"We have demonstrated that this gel has similar mechanical
properties to the lens of the eye, and we hope it also will be able to perform
the visual functions of the natural lens," says Ravi.
Gel May Revive Aging Eyes
The polymer gel-like material is a modified hydrogel similar to
those used in many extended-wear contact lenses.
"The gel material is soft to the touch, and it has elastic
properties similar to those found in the natural human lens," says
researcher Madalene Fetsch, a graduate assistant at Washington University, in a
news release. "It also looks as if it has the potential to be injectable,
which would mean it could be delivered with less invasive surgery."
By making the gel injectable, researchers say they would also
avoid the current practice of cutting a slit in the eye in order to insert a
replacement lens during cataract surgery.
Researchers say the new strategy would call for removing the
old and clouded lens material from the capsular bag that holds the lens in the
eye while leaving the rest of the structure intact. Then the surgeon would
replace the old lens material with the clear, flexible polymer gel by injecting
it into the empty capsular bag.
Researchers presented the findings this week at the American
Chemical Society National Meeting in Washington, D.C.
More Research Needed
So far, they say the main problem with the gel is that they
have to improve the gel's refractive index. This is the degree to which the gel
refracts light and allows the eye to focus. But researchers say other
scientists have been successful in improving the refractive index in similar
Researchers say they hope to begin animal testing of the gel
early next year.
"Assuming that we make it all the way to human studies, we
would probably first offer it to cataract patients because by that time they
almost certainly would have presbyopia and they're looking at a similar surgery
anyway," says Fetsch.
After that, she says the treatment would be offered to people
with presbyopia who no longer want to wear bifocals or contacts.