Preventing cataracts


Dr. Nuran Ercal (left) is conducting research to see if an antioxidant can prevent degenerative eye conditions. She is pictured with graduate student Ahdab Naeem Khayyat. Photos by B.A. Rupert

Using eye drops prepared with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine amide, or NACA, Nuran Ercal is conducting research that could prevent or cure cataracts, macular degeneration and other degenerative eye disorders.

Ercal, the Richard K. Vitek/Foundation for Chemical Research Endowed Chair in Biochemistry and an M.D., says NACA is better than the experimental treatment N- acetylcysteine because it crosses cell membranes easier and can be used in lower doses.

“NACA eye drops could represent an alternative to costly surgery, while greatly improving the quality of life for those afflicted,” says Ercal, who has been testing NACA on HIV-related problems, lead poisoning and other toxicities for 10 years. About four years ago she began testing it on eye disorders.

Ercal received a three-year, $378,000 research grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health using preliminary data based on research by her former student, Joshua Carey, who earned bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and physics in 2007 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 2012.

Carey’s dissertation showed how NACA could slow cataract growth on rats that had been given a solution that causes cataracts to form.

“The NACA solution prevented cataracts from forming,” says Ercal. “Our research will build on Josh’s research, to see if NACA can actually reverse the degeneration as well.”


Ercal’s team, left-to-right: Rakesh Kacham (graduate student), Ahdab Naeem Khayy (graduate student), Dr. Nuran Ercal, Hsiu-Jen Wang (Ph.D. student), Dr. Shakila Banu Tobwala (post-doctoral fellow), Sri Krishna Yasaswi Maddirala (Ph.D. student), and Adam Lee Martin (Ph.D. student)


By Linda Fulps
More information about Dr. Ercal’s research.