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Lens replacement material may improve cataract treatment, eliminate bifocals

New York, Sept. 8, 2003 -- Scientists at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are developing a gel-like material that eventually could be used to replace diseased and aging lenses in the eyes of patients with cataracts. The material also might eventually mean the end of bifocals and contact lenses for millions of people who suffer from presbyopia -- literally "old vision" -- a condition that makes it difficult for people over 40 to read without magnification.

The researchers described their work in New York at the 226th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

"This could represent a totally different approach to the treatment of cataracts and presbyopia," says Nathan Ravi, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and professor of chemical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. "As we age, the lens of the eye gradually loses its ability to adjust its focus. We have demonstrated that this gel has similar mechanical properties to the lens of the eye, and we hope it also will be able to perform the visual functions of the natural lens."

Ravi, who also is director of ophthalmology for VA Heartland hospitals in the Midwest, has been working with various synthetic polymers, looking for those that compare favorably with the natural lens. His research centers on understanding the biomechanics of the lens and the causes of presbyopia.

As we age, the tissues in our eyes tend to lose their flexibility. The lens also becomes cloudy if cataracts form. The current treatment for cataracts is to remove the old lens material and replace it with a flexible plastic lens. The new strategy would be to carefully remove the aging and clouded lens material from the lens' capsular bag (the part of the eye that holds the lens), while leaving that structure intact. Then, the surgeon would
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Contact: Jim Dryden
drydenj@msnotes.wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
8-Sep-2003


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