University of Utah researchers are launching a two-year study to determine whether mineral and vitamin dietary supplements can slow the growth of two of the nation's leading causes of blindness.

The research, which will study the effects of dietary supplements on volunteers from Utah and other Mountain West states, will focus on cataracts and macular degeneration.Cataracts, a clouding of the transparent crystalline lens of the eye, and macular degeneration, which affects the central part of the retina that is responsible for the sharp visual acuity needed for reading and seeing small objects, are most commonly associated with aging.

About 5 percent of Americans over age 45 suffer from some degree of degeneration in the macula, and the disease is the most common cause of new cases of blindness among Americans over age 65, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. It estimates that cataracts cause 3,558,000 cases of visual impairment and 71,550 cases of blindness in the U.S. each year.

Dr. Randall J. Olson, professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the U.'s School of Medicine and principal investigator for the study, says 600 participants will be needed to volunteer for the new study.

"Participants will receive varying levels of dietary supplements - vitamins and minerals - which will be well within known safe dosages," he said. "No sugar pills or placebos will be used."

Those interested in participating in the research proj-ect should contact Susan Trainor, study coordinator, or Susan Goodell, study assistant, at 581-3416.