In the not too distant future, doctors may treat and prevent cataracts with eye drops made possible thanks to a breakthrough by LSU AgCenter scientists.

Professor Cristina Sabliov and assistant professor Carlos Astete in the AgCenter Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering have found a way to use nanoparticles to deliver lutein, a key yellow pigment that helps protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes, through eye drops.

Until now, treatments using lutein have been limited, according to the AgCenter. Lutein doesn’t dissolve well in water, degrades quickly and isn’t absorbed well.

The AgCenter scientists have developed a solution that takes care of those issues. The AgCenter is also working on patenting the technology.

“This new product would have the unique advantage of both being able to prevent cataracts before they start or to treat cataracts after they form,” Sabliov said.

The eye drops could sharply reduce the cost of cataract treatment.

In 2010, Medicare spent roughly $3.4 billion on 1.8 million cataract surgeries. An estimated 3 million cataract surgeries are done in the United States each year.

By 2050, around 50 million U.S. residents will have cataracts, more than double the number from 2010, according to the National Institutes of Health.