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Researchers identify key risk factor for cataracts

St. Louis, Jan. 7, 2004 -- Ophthalmology researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a key risk factor for the development of cataracts. For the first time, they have demonstrated an association between loss of gel in the eye's vitreous body -- the gel that lies between the back of the lens and the retina -- and the formation of nuclear cataracts, the most common type of age-related cataracts.

The researchers reported their findings in the January issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

"Most people think of cataracts as a problem that we develop if we're lucky to live long enough, but clearly there are people who live to quite an old age and never get cataracts," says principal investigator David C. Beebe, Ph.D., the Janet and Bernard Becker Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and professor of cell biology and physiology. "The perception that they are inevitable may have skewed our perspective about preventing cataracts, but it may be possible to prevent them if we can continue to home in on the causes of cataracts."

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the world, accounting for nearly 50 percent of all blindness. In the United States where cataract treatment is routine, surgical removal of cataracts and implantation of replacement lenses is the most expensive item in the Medicare ophthalmology budget, representing more than half of the money spent on ophthalmic services in the country.

The idea that breakdown of the vitreous gel might be related to risk for cataracts first was suggested in 1962 by a New Jersey ophthalmologist who noticed that many of his patients with nuclear cataracts also had degeneration of the vitreous body. But this suggestions was not pursued, and it was more than 40 years before the current work from Beebe and his team demonstrated a statistical relationship between breakdown of the
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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
7-Jan-2004


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