Cataract, a clouding of the normally transparent crystalline lens of the eye, is a leading cause of blindness throughout the world. Cataract may develop for a variety of reasons, most notably as a consequence of aging. Currently, corrective surgery is the only treatment. New, cost-effective surgical and nonsurgical approaches are necessary to create alternatives and improve the care of patients with cataract, especially in nations with limited resources.

The Comprehensive Ophthalmology Division offers an unfunded one-year International Fellowship in Cataract Research. The international fellowship prepares graduates for careers in academic ophthalmology with an emphasis on state-of-the-art cataract evaluation, surgical management and outcomes analysis.

With major support from the National Eye Institute, vision scientist Dr. Joseph Horwitz led a major breakthrough in cataract research in 1992 by discovering that alpha-crystallin, an important structural component of the lens, has the capacity to slow down and suppress the deterioration of proteins. In 1998, in collaboration with other UCLA scientists, he spearheaded another advancement in elucidating the molecular structure of alpha-crystallin. To encourage this research, a Senior Scientific Investigator Award was given to Dr. Horwitz by Research to Prevent Blindness. It is through this work and that of other basic scientists at the SEI that exciting, new therapies are possible.

In his ophthalmology practice, Dr. Kevin M. Miller pursues new techniques and devices that result in improvements in cataract surgery and patient outcomes. He received a grant from Alcon Laboratories to conduct a clinical study of a newly developed astigmatism-correcting intraocular lens. It is hoped that this device, which is implanted during cataract surgery, will reduce the postoperative need for additional surgery and/or refractive devices (contact lenses or eyeglasses). The SEI is one of a few sites in the country involved in this research. Such opportunities come to the top eye institutes because they are staffed by physicians with long-standing reputations for innovation and clinical excellence. To continue this kind of emerging basic science and clinical research, it is essential to combine a vigorous educational and scientific environment with state-of-the-art facilities and highly accomplished faculty and staff. Competitive grants provide the underpinning for this work, but they are not enough to keep pace with the swiftly evolving field of vision science in which knowledge doubles every 10 years.