Researchers discovered a chemical compound capable of clearing cataracts in lab tests using mice and human eye lens tissue. The compound is soluble enough and can be administered like most common eye drops.

The new discovery could be an alternative method in the treatment of blinding conditions. Once approved, they could deliver easier and cheaper treatment alternatives.

Cataract is an eye condition where proteins called crystallins clump and fold, resulting in the loss of the eye's lens' transparency. The protein clumps are called amyloids. For many years, researchers have been trying to find a way to dissolve the clumps and to prevent them from forming in the first place.

A research team from the University of Michigan and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) started to work on compounds with cataract-blasting effects. The researchers tested a compound called 'compound 29' on mutated mice with predisposed cataracts and mice whose cataracts developed naturally with age. Drops containing the compound were administered in the mice's lenses as well as in surgery-retrieved, cataract-laden human lens tissue. The compound was able to dissipate amyloids and prevent crystallins from clumping back.

Protein clumps in the human eye and those in other parts of the body which lead to the development of degenerative diseases share several similarities. Researchers think the findings could lead to other treatments and not just in the removal of cataracts.

"By studying cataracts we've been able to benchmark our technologies and to show by proof-of-concept that these technologies could also be used in nervous system diseases, to lead us all the way from the first idea to a drug we can test in clinical trials," said Jason Gestwicki, UCSF's pharmaceutical chemistry associate professor.

The research was published in the journal Science on Nov. 6. Compound 29 has already been licensed to ViewPoint Therapeutics, a company formed during the incubator program at UCSF. ViewPoint Therapeutics is set to develop the compound for human use.

In July, a compound called lanosterol was discovered by University of California San Diego researchers, where it successfully cleared cataracts in dog and rabbit eye lenses. However, the chemical was not soluble enough so the team had to inject the compound into the eyes of the animal subjects.

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