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Press Release 93-15
Linda S. Ellis
(Bus: 216/433-2900)

Cataract Sufferers May Benefit from Space Research at NASA Lewis Research Center

Cleveland, OH -- Thousands of potential cataract sufferers may benefit from technology development now underway by researchers at NASA's Lewis Research Center here.

A recently developed diagnostic tool may lead to treatment of cataracts while they are in the early formative stages.

According to Dr. Rafat Ansari, project scientist at NASA's Lewis Research Center, "Once a series of voluntary patient studies is completed using a prototype tool, pharmaceutical companies may then have the opportunity to develop the necessary drugs to neutralize a developing cataract."

The tool is a small fiber optic probe that can detect protein crystals suspended in the fluid inside the eye. These crystals are suspected of forming into a cloudy mass over time, thus causing cataracts.

"Until now," according to Dr. Ansari, "physicians have not had the technology to tell what is really happening inside the lens." Along with Professor Harbans Dwadwal of State University New York Stoneybrook, Dr. Ansari has developed the instrument that uses laser light to detect cataracts in the very early formative stages.

Originally developed for an experiment in materials processing aboard the space shuttle, the device is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. An optical fiber transmits a low-power laser beam so weak that there is no risk of eye damage. Light scattered from within the eye back to the instrument is picked up by a second optical fiber. After processing on a laptop computer, the pattern of light could be recorded to become a permanent record for the patient files. A change in protein particle size might indicate the onset of a cataract.

Dr. Ansari points out that fiber optic probes can also measure the sizes of very small particles that are suspended in solutions. This capability may have use in industrial applications as well as in the field of ophthalmology.

Dr. Ansari, a research professor at Case Western Reserve University, works as a project scientist under a Case Western Reserve University/NASA cooperative research agreement. He is assigned to the Materials Division at NASA Lewis Research Center.

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EDITORS NOTE: Computer-generated graphics depicting the diagnostic tool and use of it in a clinical system are available by calling 216/433-2901.


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