Research highlight

Stem cells: Treating cataracts with stem cells


March 10, 2016

A new, minimally invasive surgical technique for treating cataracts - the leading cause of blindness worldwide - using an animal’s own stem cells is reported in a paper published online this week in Nature. The study demonstrates regeneration of the lens of the eye in animals and human infants with improved outcomes and reduced complications compared to the current standard treatment.

The current treatment for cataracts involves surgically removing the clouded lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens. Although this surgery is common in infants with congenital cataracts, it requires a large incision to the lens capsule that can lead to inflammation, prolonged recovery and the destruction of many lens epithelial stem/progenitor cells (LECs), which have an important role in protecting the lens against external injury.

Kang Zhang and colleagues isolated LECs in mammals, assessed their regenerative abilities and developed a surgical method for removing the native lens while preserving the LECs. Using this method, they demonstrate successful lens regeneration in rabbits and macaques, as well as in 12 human cataract patients up to two years of age. The authors report that in human infants treated with their new method, the capsular openings healed within one month and the transparency of the visual axis increased by more than 20-fold compared to paediatric cataract patients who received the current standard-of-care treatment.

doi: 10.1038/nature17181

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