Published October 13, 2011
The drug -- which targets a specific protein in eye tissue -- has been effective in preliminary trials, but is yet to be tested on humans.
Lead inventor Professor Andrew Abell, from the University of Adelaide, said the drug could slow cataract growth so significantly that surgery -- the existing remedy -- might never be required.
"Optometrists can tell very early on whether you have signs of cataracts, well before they affect vision," Abell said in an interview published Thursday by The Advertiser.
"By using the drug early, you could slow their development so much it would not actually develop."
The treatment would take the form of drops or cream to be placed in the eye each night before bed.
Cataracts are formed when a protein, known as calpain, clouds the eye lens and impairs vision.
The protein can be activated by various triggers, including aging. Other causes include diabetes, eye injury, smoking, drinking, exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight, and long-term use of steroid medication.
The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that almost 18 million people are blind from cataracts. Each year, more than 200,000 cataract surgeries are performed.