New stem cell operation regenerates eye lenses of babies blinded by congenital cataracts

Normally with cataract surgery, the cells that remain tend to generate disorganized regrowth and no useful vision.

Impaired vision: Cataract

A new stem cell technique has resulted in the regrowth of functional lenses in the eyes of infants blinded by congenital cataracts.

Scientists removed the cataracts in a way that allowed the remaining stem cells to regenerate the lenses.

Normally, cataract surgery largely removes “endogenous” stem cells that naturally collect at the site of injury.

The few that remain tend to generate disorganized regrowth and no useful vision.

The researchers tested the treatment on animals and a small group of 12 infants under two years old with cataracts.

New technique: a colony of human stem cells



Senior Scientist Dr Kang Zhang, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, USA, said, “The ultimate goal of stem cell research is to harness the potential of regeneration of its own stem cells for tissue and organ repair and treatment of disease. .

“The success of this work represents a new approach in how new human tissues or organs can be regenerated and human diseases can be treated, and can have a broad impact on regenerative therapies by harnessing the regenerative power of our own bodies. . “

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Fewer complications and faster healing were seen in infants receiving the new treatment compared to others who had standard surgery.

After three months, all had regenerated clear biconvex lenses in their eyes.

Minimally invasive surgery preserved the integrity of the lens capsule – a membrane that helps shape the lens to function. In this way, the natural stem cells were able to develop and form the new lenses.

Affected: Cathy Calthorpe, with her granddaughter Leah after the tot operation to remove congenital cataracts at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in 2007



The results are published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Professor Graham McGeown, Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The study … provides clear ‘proof of principle’ of an important new treatment for cataracts in children.

“This new approach has significantly reduced the risk of side effects harmful to eyesight compared to the current ‘best practice’ treatment, which involves more destructive surgery followed by implantation of an artificial lens. However, it is not clear whether this would be beneficial for adults with cataracts. “

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Dr Dusko Ilic, Stem Cell Science Reader at King’s College London, said: “The study … is one of the greatest achievements in regenerative medicine so far. It is science at its best. “

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