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Researchers identify key risk factor for cataracts

etina so that oxygen can be carried away in the fluid and delivered to the lens.

Currently, there is no way to measure the breakdown of vitreous gel in living people to assess risk of developing cataracts, but Beebe's laboratory is collaborating with a group at the University of Virginia that is working on advanced ultrasound techniques in an attempt to do just that.

He's also collaborating with Nancy M. Holekamp, M.D., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at Washington University, to measure oxygen levels in the vitreous chamber of patients prior to a vitrectomy and in patients who have had a vitrectomy but require a second retinal surgery a year or two later. Measuring vitreal oxygen levels in those two groups should allow the researchers to compare patients who have a gel vitreous to patients whose vitreous body is completely liquid to see whether oxygen levels near the lens really increase in eyes where the vitreous gel has been removed.

If those studies show it's possible to identify people at risk for cataracts, Beebe says the next step would be to find ways to prevent the migration of oxygen from the retina to the lens.

"Perhaps we could replace the vitreous gel with a gel polymer that would keep oxygen away from the lens by replacing the barrier between the retina and the lens," Beebe says. "Those are things we haven't thought about much because, frankly, we didn't know what the vitreous did. Now that we're beginning to get an idea of how the vitreous works, it may be possible to design interventions to protect the lens both in people who have had a vitrectomy and in those whose vitreous is degenerating as a part of normal aging."


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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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