Scientists are developing a laser device to treat cataracts that could be ready within three years.
A team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has been awarded a 2.7 million pounds grant to create a prototype mobile laser device for use around the world.
Surgical procedures are available for cataracts, in which the lens of the eye clouds over, progressively blurring vision.
The surgery involves the removal of the natural lens at the front of the eye and its replacement with a clear, plastic version.
Laser therapy, by contrast, has been found to restore the original lens to its pre-cataract state without the need for surgery. The prototype device is expected to be ready in about three years, with small-scale clinical trials taking place.
The team at Heriot-Watt had been involved in developing a new and more accurate diagnostic test for cataracts, which affect half of people over 65 and a rising number of younger people affected by obesity-related Type 2 Diabetes, 'The Times' reported.
They found that lasers used at a certain wavelength could affect the molecular structure of the proteins in the lens, which are believed to have a role in cataract formation.
"The subjective way that clinicians decide whether or not to surgically remove cataracts can lead to patients being referred for surgery too early, placing stress on healthcare services, or too late, at which point they will have suffered with poor eyesight far longer than necessary," said Professor Rory Duncan, the head of Heriot-Watt's Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering.
"We're developing a quantitative method of diagnosing the presence and severity of cataracts that is objective.
"This will lead to a reduction in early, late or unnecessary operations and further research will allow us to start diagnosing cataracts much earlier.
The possibilities of a new laser therapy had been discovered during the development of the test, Duncan said.
Duncan added that although surgery was highly effective in most cases, "it is invasive, which can produce infections." "Also, with surgery the surgeon has to remove the lens from the front of the eye and pop in a plastic lens. It's better than the cataract but not better than the real thing," Duncan said.