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Iranian NASA researcher shows tool can diagnose cataracts, glaucoma

The Birmingham News, Birmingham, Alabama
May 20, 1999

Alireza Arabshahi is a wizard with a laser who hopes his experiment with light will lead to a medical breakthrough.

Arabshahi, a 33-year-old researcher at UAB's Center for Macromolecular Crystallography, specializes in an area of biophysical chemistry called "laser Light Scattering".

The idea is to diffuse a laser beam to measure the growth of protein molecules responsible for eye disease. The structure of the molecules could help ophthalmologists detect the early stages of glaucoma and cataracts, he said, and aid pharmaceutical companies' search for improved drugs.

The procedure must gain approval from the Center for Disease Control and prevention and the Food and drug administration before commercial use can begin. Laser have been used in medicine for years to destroy or separate tissue, but Arabshahi said he and five colleagues are the first to show that lasers also can help diagnose cataracts and glaucoma.

Their research was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For their work, Arabshahi and his co-authors recently received NASA's Outstanding Technical Innovation Award, given by the NASA-Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Among the co-authors are Terry Bray and Larry DeLucas, also scientists at UAB's Center for Macromolecular Crystallography.

If the procedure is cleared for commercial use, the benefit to ophthalmologist and patients will be substantial, Arabshahi predicted. "This is a non-invasive probe. It comes close to the human eye but never physically touches the eye."

Arabshahi, a student at Mississippi State University during much of his investigation into light Scattering, plans to earn a doctorate at UAB and pursue a career as an astronaut. He wants to study protein crystals in space, where they are unaffected by gravity and can provide important clues about eye diseases and other illnesses.

He already has a hand in space study, as the Center for Macromolecular Crystallography has developed a device for the International Space Station to preserve and analyze high-quality protein crystals.


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