September 2009




NASA-developed device proves valuable


The first non-invasive means of detecting cataracts early has been developed, according to a report by DailyScience. The compact fiber-optic probe was the result of the collaborative efforts of researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The simple, safe eye test measures a protein related to cataract formation and detects subtle protein changes before a cataract develops, allowing the patient to possibly reduce their cataract risk by making simple lifestyle changes, the report said.

Based on a laser light technique called dynamic light scattering (DLS), the device was initially developed to analyze the growth of protein crystals in a zero-gravity space environment, the report said.

When he learned that his father’s cataracts were caused by changes in lens proteins, NASA’s Rafat R. Ansari, Ph.D., senior scientist at the John H. Glenn Research Center and co-author of the study, brought the technology’s possible clinical applications to the attention of NEI vision researchers.

“We have shown that this non-invasive technology that was developed for the space program can now be used to look at the early signs of protein damage due to oxidative stress, a key process involved in many medical conditions, including age-related cataract and diabetes, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” Dr. Ansari told ScienceDaily.

“By understanding the role of protein changes in cataract formation, we can use the lens not just to look at eye disease, but also as a window into the whole body.”

Clinical trials for the device, published in the December 2008 Archives of Ophthalmology, evaluated 380 eyes of people aged 7 to 86 who had lenses ranging from clear to severe cloudiness from cataract. The DLS device was used to shine a low-power laser light through the lenses. The researchers previously determined alpha-crystallin’s light-scattering ability, which was then used to detect and measure the amount of alpha-crystallin in the lenses.

The researchers found that as cloudiness increased, alpha-crystallin in the lenses decreased. As the participants’ age increased, alpha-crystallin amounts also decreased, even when the lenses were still transparent. Currently available imaging tools are unable to detect these age-related pre-cataract changes, the report said.

“This research is a prime example of two government agencies sharing scientific information for the benefit of the American people,” NEI director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., told ScienceDaily.


Reported by: EyeWorld News Services

NASA-developed device proves valuable NASA-developed device proves valuable
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
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