Stem cells used to grow eye lenses could help treat young and old with cataracts

Little Ben Myatt was born with cataracts so dense and cloudy that you can see them in some of his baby photos.

At the time they were detected, Ben was only three months old. His mother Erin noticed that he was not tracking objects correctly.

“We took him to an optometrist for an eye exam,” she said. “He told us he thought he had cataracts and we were like ‘Okay, really?’ We didn’t know babies had this. “

Ben had surgery to remove his defective lenses, but like all babies with cataracts, he was too small to have new artificial lenses inserted.

Ben’s eyes had to be protected after his operation.(

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“If we hadn’t removed his cataracts, his brain wouldn’t have developed vision,” said his father Adam. “It was distressing to see him with the eye patches.”

Ben, who is now two years old, has to wear contact lenses until his eyes are big enough for artificial lenses.

Her parents said putting contact lenses on a toddler’s eyes was as difficult as it sounds.

“It would take us about 15 minutes to do an eye. Sometimes it took three people, two people to help it hold it,” Mr. Myatt said.

Stem cells used to grow eye lenses in the laboratory

New research could mean that some of the 100 children born with cataracts in Australia each year would not have the same experience as Ben and his parents.

Scientists at the University of Western Sydney used stem cells to create human eye lens cells and then grow them into eye lenses.

Principal investigator Michael O’Connor said they could grow tens of thousands of “microlenses” in a lab.

Microlenticular cells grown from human lens cells in a laboratory
Low magnification images of microlenses. Each circle is approximately 0.1mm in diameter.(

Provided: Western Sydney University

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They also used them to develop potential drug treatments that could help delay the onset of cataracts in older people.

“[It] allows us to look at all stages of cataract formation from all types of risk factors, ”said Dr. O’Connor.

“Once you figure this out and have the capacity to do it, then you can identify drugs to try to slow the progression.”

But Dr O’Connor said his team’s new procedures may also have applications for children with cataracts.

Dr Michael O'Connor of Western Sydney University
Dr Michael O’Connor and his team developed “microlenses” from scratch using stem cells.(

ABC News: Chris Taylor

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While the goal of the team’s work is to develop preventative drugs, while lenses can grow back in children, they can potentially help people with age-related cataracts.

“If it works for kids, it could work for adults,” Dr. O’Connor said.

The treatment is still in its early stages and would need to be developed and tested before it can be used in humans.

Promising research, but future applications in years

Ben Myatt, now two years old, with his mother and father.
Ben, along with his mom Erin and dad Adam, has to wear contact lenses until he’s old enough for artificial lenses.(

ABC News: Alison Branley

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Dr O’Connor said like all medical treatments, the use of stem cells can come with risks and the likely costs remain uncertain.

“It will take a number of years… but we have the tools now, which is quite promising,” he said.

The results were published in the journal Development. It builds on previous research where scientists were able to grow lentils using children’s own epithelial cells.

At Western Sydney University, scientists developed human lens cells from scratch.

Groups like Cataract Kids Australia are excited about the breakthrough, calling it “one of the first major developments in pediatric cataract treatment in a decade.”

Director Megan Prictor said children can be very anxious about the way the disease is being managed.

“They may have to spend a lot of time in hospital appointments and find it very annoying to have to wear a patch to develop the vision in their eyes, or to wear very thick glasses which could lead to teasing in the eye. school, ”she said.

Ms Prictor said they would like to see more funding for Dr O’Connor’s work.

“Obviously, this research is still in the lab stage, so it would be great if we could see clinical trials that could test whether implantation of these lenses will allow a more natural lens to develop as the child grows older. “


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