A path breaking research by an Indian scientist at the University of Missouri may help in uncovering the mystery behind cataract formation. This could lead to better treatment for cataracts in the future.
During the study, K. Krishna Sharma, professor of ophthalmology at MU, found that a specific type of protein begins to lose function as the eye ages. As the protein loses function, small peptides, made of 10 to 15 amino acids, start forming and accelerate cataract formation in the eye.
"It is very helpful to track the formation of these peptides," said Sharma.
"The next step is to work on preventing their formation. If we are successful, we could delay the aging process in the eye.
"A ten-year delay in the onset of cataracts could decrease the number of cataract surgeries by 45 percent, thus significantly decreasing vision care cost. Currently, 1.5 million to 2 million cataract surgeries are completed yearly," he added.
Nearly 50 percent of the lens is made of proteins, and 90 percent of the proteins are structures known as crystallins. One of the main functions of the crystallins is to maintain the clarity of the lens through an activity known as "chaperoning".
In a healthy eye, crystallins break down over time, eventually degrading to small peptides. The peptides are then cleared from the eye with the help of other proteins.
As the eye ages, small peptides start to form at an increasing rate. As the number of small peptides increases in the eye, chaperone activity starts to decrease, resulting in less cleansing activity inside the lens. As the small peptides increase, the eye's lens starts to develop cataracts.
"This study will bring us another step closer to understanding how cataracts form in the eye and how best to treat this debilitating disease," said Sharma.
The study appears in a recent edition of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.