The National Eye Institute and NASA together have developed a simple safe eye device to use to measure a protein related to cataract formation. If subtle protein changes can be detected before a cataract develops, people may be able to reduce their cataract risk by making simple lifestyle changes. NEI and NASA developed the eye device to detect the earliest damage to lens proteins that can be used to find early warning signs for cataract formation and blindness.
The new device is based on a laser light technique called Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS). In a recent NEI-NASA clinical trial reported in the December 2008 “Archives of Ophthalmology”, researchers examined 380 eyes and had the DLS device shine a low power laser light through the lenses. They found that age related pre-cataract changes would have remained undetected by currently available imaging tools.
The device was initially developed to analyze the growth of protein crystals in zero-gravity space environment. NASA’s Rafat R. Ansari, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the John H. Glenn Research Center brought the possible clinical applications for using the technology to the attention of NEI vision researchers.
“We have shown that this non-invasive technology device can not only find the early signs of protein damage due to oxidative stress in the case of age-related cataracts, but the device might also be used to determine diabetes as well as neurodegenerative diseases. “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” said Dr. Ansari.
The device will not only help people on earth, but NASA is very interested in the device because on a three year mission to Mars, astronauts will experience increased exposure to space radiation that could cause cataracts and other problems. This new technology will help NASA understand the mechanism for cataract formation so that researchers can work to develop effective countermeasures to mitigate the risk and prevent cataracts in astronauts.