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Digital Issues

The End of Cataract Surgery?

The identification of a substance that reverses the buildup of protein in eye lenses, the proximal cause of cataracts, presents the possibility that the vision-destroying condition could someday be simply treated with eye drops.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, genetic testing conducted at the University of California San Diego has revealed that the body's failure to produce adequate levels of lanosterol contributes to the development of cataracts. Further laboratory testing has shown that lanosterol cleared cataract-like crystalline protein mutations in human lens cells and in naturally occurring cataracts taken from rabbit eyes.

This discovery could have a significant impact on public health, according to Robert Bhisitkul, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco, who told the Times, "Preventing or reversing cataracts with an eye drop has been the Holy Grail in ophthalmology since the field began."

Lanosterol is produced naturally in the body, so it would have minimal adverse effects during treatment, say the researchers, who hope to test the substance in humans. The researchers note, though, that the drops won't be used in clinical practice anytime soon, and when they are, they might be best suited as a proactive treatment among aging individuals who want to prevent the development of cataracts.

The research was published online in the journal Nature.

Daniel Cook

Women, Men and General Anesthesia

Older women suffer from more long-term cognitive and functional problems following general anesthesia than older men do, according to a study presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference last week.

Researchers found that, after being exposed to general anesthesia, both men and women declined in measures of cognition, functional status and brain volumes faster than those who were not exposed.

However, they also discovered that women were significantly more likely than men to suffer from long-term mental function problems as a result of anesthesia. The difference was even more pronounced in women who underwent multiple procedures.

"This is one of the first studies to suggest that among older adults, women are at a higher risk for post-operative brain dysfunction than men," says Katie Schenning, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University. "Our research clearly shows an association between surgery, general anesthesia and cognitive decline in older adults."

Kendal Gapinski

How Endoscopy Extends Lives

Catching colorectal cancer earlier through a screening colonoscopy may add nearly 2 years to a patient's life, a recent study in the journal Gastrointestinal Endoscopy suggests.

German researchers reviewed the cases of 312 patients, all 55 years of age or older, who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 2002 and 2004. Of those, 60 had been symptom-free, and had been diagnosed during routine screenings. The other 252 had already experienced symptoms — such as abdominal pain, anemia, weight loss or bleeding — and were having diagnostic colonoscopies. None of the 312 had previous colonoscopies, and all were given follow-up care.

Among those who died in the following years, the patients who had been diagnosed during routine screenings lived an average of 20.2 months longer than those whose symptoms highlighted the need for colonoscopies. Additionally, at the study's end, about 77% of the screening group was still alive, compared with about 55% of the symptom group.

Jim Burger

InstaPoll: Could Eye Drops Really Dissolve Cataracts?

As reported above, researchers are suggesting that a natural chemical could shrink down and dissolve cataracts. Their findings were made in laboratory testing, but if they hold true for humans, they could greatly reduce the need for cataract surgery. Do you believe it'll work? Tell us in this week's InstaPoll.

The vast majority of the 203 respondents to last week's poll are highly skilled at starting IVs, boasting an exceptional first-stick success rate. The results:

What's your first-stick success rate?

  • nearly 100% 61%
  • about 75% 35%
  • about 50% 3%
  • about 33% 0%
  • less than 25% 1%

Dan O'Connor

News & Notes

  • Baxter recalls IV saline A customer complaint about particulate matter — specifically, an insect — in an IV bag of 0.9% Sodium Chloride Injection, USP, has led Baxter International to recall some of the product. Lot numbers P319921 (the 50 mL viaflex plastic container) and P327635 (the 100 mL mini-bag) were distributed in the U.S. between Oct. 7, 2014 and July 14, 2015.
  • CMS data deadline approaching ASCs that have not enrolled in the National Healthcare Safety Network or submitted their ASC-8 quality measure data (on employees' influenza vaccine coverage) will soon be receiving faxed reminders from CMS. In order to avoid a 2% reduction in calendar year 2016 payments, act now: the enrollment takes 2 weeks to process and the data must be submitted by August 15.
  • The sounds of surgery More than 70% of surgeons listen to music while operating, according to yet-to-be published research conducted by German and American physicians. They note that surgeons believe background music helps them focus on tasks at hand and keeps everyone in the OR in good spirits. Surgeons' tastes range from hip-hop to classic rock, but classical music works best for everyone in the room, according to the researchers, who say music should add to the OR environment and never be a distraction.