Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 06:49 UK

NI scientists in cataract advance

Cataracts affect about 40% of people over 75
Cataracts affect about 40% of people over 75

The world's leading cause of blindness could soon be reversed, according to Northern Ireland scientists who have developed a new type of nanotechnology.

Researchers at the University of Ulster have said the technique will allow scientists to put nano-particles within the eye without breaking the lens.

The research was done in conjunction with a team from the University of Texas.

About 40% of people over the age of 75 develop a cataract in one or both eyes.

In developing countries there are more than 20m people who are blind from cataracts.

Until now, there has never been an alternative to surgical removal of cataracts.

Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Professor of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Ulster said the implications of the research are timely and far reaching.

"The research emphasis used to be on removing and surgery and it has now been replaced with talk about what caused it and how can we reverse it," she said.

"The research is timely because we have an ageing population and we have hospital waiting lists that are bulging and people that are too frail for operations.

"Nanotechnology offers us the prospect of an improved understanding of the intact protein arrangements and how these may change with cataract formation.

"This is groundbreaking work because for the first time it offers the prospect of penetrating the intact lens and tagging the proteins in their natural arrangements to identify early structural changes that precede cataract formation.

"It offers us a great window of opportunity."


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