June 1 marks the first day of Cataract Awareness Month, a month when we celebrate sight, science and hope. The month was officially named in 2020 by Prevent Blindness to educate the public on symptoms, types of cataracts, cataract surgery and more.
About 42% of all blindness cases worldwide are caused by cataracts. Closer to home, it is reported that more than 25 million people in the United States have cataracts. A study by NORC at the University of Chicago predicts the number of Americans with cataracts will increase by 50% by 2032.
Cataract formation findings
New research has uncovered significant findings related to cataract development, treatment and its effect on one’s overall cognition.
It is widely known that cataracts are more prevalent among older populations, along with those who have health issues such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure. Additionally, cataracts more frequently affect those who smoke and drink excessive amounts of alcohol. However, Professor Barbara Pierscionek of Anglia Ruskin University, along with a team of international scientists, have discovered a potential breakthrough in the way that cataracts are formed and will be treated in the future.
Their research indicated a possible additional cause for the formation of cataract and found that a particular protein, aquaporin, is responsible for water passage in the lens that disrupts optical development.
Aquaporin is found in all living organisms – humans specifically have 13 of the proteins. The team identified that an accumulation of aquaporin in the lens reduces the transmission of light to the retina, therefore causing the emergence of cataracts.
These scientists have become the first in the world to successfully measure how the optics in the eye lens mature. In fact, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) recognized their work at its annual meeting. Their findings pave way in the ophthalmology world, showing the role of the aquaporin proteins are significant for the lens to function properly and for the eye to see clearly.
Alternative treatment research
As of right now, the only treatment for advanced cataract is a surgical procedure to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial substitution. The team’s new discovery could replace surgery with drug therapy. This treatment would be significantly less invasive and could be more cost-effective, making it more accessible more vulnerable populations. Although drug therapy is not yet available, it is a promising step towards alternative treatment for the vision-altering condition.
Dr. Bianca Kizy at Ophthalmic Specialists of Michigan (OSM) specializes in cataracts and has taken note of the industry’s continuously advancing technology. “This is what excites me most about my career and the ophthalmology industry,” said Dr. Kizy. “As technology advances, it increases our chances of successfully restoring patient vision, and hopefully one day reversing damage.”
Cataracts & Alzheimer’s
While cataract removal surgery can help restore one’s once cloudy vision, new research suggests it may have another benefit as well: a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that cataract removal was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dementia development. Although we do not know the exact mechanism for the benefits of cataract surgery, researchers explain that the eye is strongly connected to the brain, sharing the same neural tissue.
Dr. Kizy believes these findings are yet another reason patients should prioritize their eye health, including scheduling regular eye exams. Primary care providers should more frequently screen for visual decline and address vision throughout patients’ lives as a means of protecting their brain function.
In observance of Cataract Awareness month, be sure to prioritize your eye health. If you are at risk of developing cataracts or in need of cataract treatment, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor today, as it could save your vision and your cognition.