The crystalline lens is a transparent biconvex totally epithelial structure that is enclosed within a thin capsule. The approximate equatorial diameter and central thickness of the human lens is 9 mm and 4 mm, respectively. The lens is comprised of tightly packed epithelial cells – lens fibers – enclosed in a thin capsule. Although the lens fibers have few organelles their protein contact is very high. The lens consists of 35% protein and 65% water. Lens transparency depends on short-range order of the proteins within the lens. Changes in lens protein structure cause the scattering that reduces lens transparency, which results in a cataract. To begin to understand the mechanism of caractogenesis the authors are using nanotechnology.

The author’s preliminary studies demonstrated that fluorescent nanoparticles or quantum dots of a few nanometers in size will passively diffuse into lens fibers but will not pass through the lens capsule. The authors are now using lens cultures with nanoparticles attached to biocompatible tags to study the controlling factors responsible for the differences in diffusion and to identify the early structural changes that precede opacification and cataract formation. These studies may lead to a medical treatment for cataracts – a major cause of blindness – as nanoparticles have the potential to act as carriers of chemotherapeutic agents.

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