Stem cells used to repair children’s eyes after cataracts

Post date: 
Thursday, 7 April 2016
Stem cells

A new stem cell surgical technique has treated cataracts in babies and young children, a report published in the journal Nature reveals. 

Twelve children under the age of two have successfully undergone less intrusive surgery to treat cataracts in a trial in China. 
The team of scientists removed the cloudy lens tissue through a small cut, keeping the outer-layer intact and then let the lens epithelial stem cells to regrow. 
Cataracts is a condition that most commonly affects older people but it can develop at any age. In rare cases, some babies are born with cataracts or they develop them at an early age. 
Historically, the only way of treating babies born with cataracts was by removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
Typically, the operation led to long and difficult recovery times and some children would develop other conditions like glaucoma following the treatment. Others would need to wear glasses. 
However, following the recent stem cell breakthrough, babies in the trial naturally regrew newly functioning lenses within one month.  
Scientists hope this technique will produce fewer complications during the recovery process for babies and young children in the future.  
It is unknown whether the technique could work for adults with cataracts, and the researchers seem cautiously optimistic  though they warn, "there are important differences between paediatric and adult cataracts."
Professor Roy Quinlan, a researcher at Fight for Sight said, “We don’t know whether it [using stem cell regrowth] will work in adults, we don’t know how visual perception might be affected in the treated infants and we don’t know whether this can be adapted for congenital cataract.” 
Professor Quinlan is working on stem cell regeneration to repair the lens at Durham University. He said: “The innate regenerative potential of the lens has been known for nearly two centuries.”However, the Chinese scientists are the first group to bring the observation to clinical trial. “Hopefully, others will ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ and map the boundaries of this approach for the treatment of cataract in humans.”
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