Scientists develop new treatment for cataracts using stem cells

A new procedure has demonstrated that cataracts can be cured by using a patient’s own stem cells to regrow a “living lens” in their eye.

Using the latest research, surgeons reversed blindness in 12 infants born with congenital cataracts by removing the damaged lens and coaxing nearby cells to repair the damage.

The achievement, which has been hailed as “remarkable” by experts in the field, could pave the way for millions of older people having their sight restored using their own cells.

At present, cataracts are treated by removing the clouded lens from the eye and inserting an artificial plastic version called an intraocular lens.

A large number of patients undergoing surgery are nevertheless left with poor vision and still need to wear glasses for driving or reading a book, according to a report in The Telegraph.

For babies the risks from surgery are far greater because the eye is still developing.

Using the new technology, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, showed that cataracts can be treated without the need for implanting an artificial lens, however.

They now plan to start work on age-related cataracts which are caused by clumps of protein building up over time on the lens and creating a clouding effect.

The new technique removes the lens, leaving behind the lens capsule – a membrane that helps give the lens its required shape to function. Nearby regenerative stem cells are then moved to the membrane where they begin to grow into a new, fully functioning and transparent lens.

The technique was used on 12 infants under the age of two who healed far more quickly and without complication compared with a group of 25 youngsters who had a traditional plastic lens fitted

After three months, a clear, regenerated curved lens had developed in all of the trial patients’ eyes.

The trial was lauded as a “remarkable accomplishment” by Dr Dusko Ilic, Reader in Stem Cell Science at King’s College in London.

“This is one of the finest achievements in the field of regenerative medicine until now,” Dr Ilic said.

“The basic science research led to the hypothesis that preserving and stimulating stem cells in the eye might promote regeneration of a surgically removed lens.

“And indeed, their hypothesis was true. They proved it first by testing a new surgical approach in rabbits and primates before successfully treating 12 infants. It is science at its best.”

Dr Kang Zhang, chief of Ophthalmic Genetics and founding director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said: “An ultimate goal of stem cell research is to turn on the regenerative potential of one’s own stem cells for tissue and organ repair and disease therapy.”

“The success of this work represents a new approach in how new human tissue or organ can be regenerated and human disease can be treated, and may have a broad impact on regenerative therapies by harnessing the regenerative power of our own body.

“We believe that our new approach will result in a paradigm shift in cataract surgery and may offer patients a safer and better treatment option in the future.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Leave a Comment

Security Question * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Powered by WordPress