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K-State scientist receives grant from National Institutes of Health to research cataracts

Research at Kansas State University is investigating the molecular composition of cataracts in hopes of developing a nonsurgical method to prevent or reverse the eye disease.

Cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens, are the leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the National Institutes of Health. Currently, surgery to remove and replace the cloudy eye lens is the only recommended method for restoring sight.

Larry Takemoto, a university distinguished professor of biology at K-State, has received nearly $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study the changes of protein interactions in the lens of the eye, which are believed to trigger cataracts.

"Presently, there is no known drug that can reverse or stop cataracts," Takemoto said. "By understanding the nature of the protein interactions on a biochemical level, we hope it will be possible in future studies to screen various drugs for their ability to inhibit or reverse the abnormal processes that cause cataracts."

In a healthy eye, a delicate and balanced interaction of proteins is normal and allows the lens to retain its transparency and ability to focus light. However, Takemoto's prior research suggests that changes in these interactions result in fluctuations of protein concentration. A change in concentration cause proteins to clump together, forming the cataract, and thus decreasing lens transparency. He has been collaborating with Chris Sorensen, university distinguished professor of physics at K-State, regarding theoretical aspects of this interaction.

"We think that the proteins have very specific interactions amongst themselves, and that cataracts result from changes in these interactions, leading to lens opacity," Takemoto said. "My laboratory has developed a methodology to study these interactions and their possible changes during the cataractous formation."

Takemoto is using a technique known as microequilibrium dialysis to measure protein interactions in a normal eye versus a cataractous eye. This process is normally used to study the interaction of smaller organic compounds; however Takemoto's lab will be the first to use it to study the interactions of proteins.

In microequilibrium dialysis, a mixture of two different types of proteins is put into one chamber, separated from another chamber by a filter that will only allow the passage of one type of protein. Over time, the protein concentrations in the chambers equalize, and if an interaction occurred, then the proteins should bind to one another.

"This technique allows us to both detect and quantitate possible changes in these interactions for the first time, under true equilibrium conditions," Takemoto said. "This study will establish the presence of interactions and will determine whether these interactions are altered during cataractogenesis."


Contact: Larry Takemoto
Kansas State University

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