Researchers focus on preventing secondary cataract

Scientists at the University of East Anglia are developing a new technique that could prevent later vision problems linked to cataract surgery

Eye with cataract

Scientists believe they may have found a way to prevent complications that can arise following cataract surgery, the world’s leading cause of blindness.

Detailing why complications can occur after surgery, researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) explained that while cataract surgery works well to restore vision, a few natural lens cells always remain after the procedure. Over time, the eye’s wound-healing response leads these cells to spread across the underside of the artificial lens, which interferes with vision, causing what’s known as ‘posterior capsule opacification’ or secondary cataract.

UEA’s School of Biological Sciences academic, Dr Michael Wormstone, who led the study, said: “Secondary visual loss responds well to treatment with laser surgery. But as life expectancy increases, the problems of cataract and posterior capsule opacification will become even greater in terms of both patient well being and economic burden. It’s essential that we find better ways to manage the condition in future.”

As a result, researchers are designing new artificial lenses that can be placed into a capsular bag that stays open, instead of shrink-wrapping closed, which currently occurs. It is believed that, through the new approach, fluid in the eye can flow around the artificial lens, therefore diluting and washing away the cell-signalling molecules that encourage cell re-growth.

In the study, which was part-funded by Fight for Sight, researchers used human cells and tissue and tested the idea that diluting the growth factor can prevent cells invading the posterior capsule. They also aimed to understand more about which growth factors drive the process, with a view to developing a future drug treatment.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Dr Wormstone said: “Our results show that reducing the amount of growth factor that’s available around the intraocular lens significantly impedes cell invasion and adds to the evidence in favour of open-bag cataract surgery.”

He added: “Moreover, we found that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays an important role in cell growth and survival. Therefore we believe that anti-VEGF treatment is a logical target for new drug treatments that could help enhance the effect of better lens design and placement, to prevent secondary cataract.”

The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Follow-up work from the researchers will be presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) which took place in Seattle this week (1–5 May).

Image credit: Flickr/Community Eye Health

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