New Cataract Procedure Helps Eye Grow New Lens from Stem Cells
Researchers from universities in China and California have taken a novel approach to cataract surgery in infants, allowing the body to re-grow a new lens. In traditional cataract surgery, doctors completely remove the lens along with the lens epithelial stem cells (LECs), then grow them in the lab and then place them back in the patient. These special stem cells are always present in the eye to allow for regeneration of a damaged lens.
In the new procedure, doctors remove the cloudy lens but leave the LECs intact. The doctors then stimulated the LECs to re-grow a new lens, clear of cataract damage. Doctors tested the procedure on 12 infants and every patient had a successful recovery with a notable improvement in vision.
When compared to babies who underwent the standard cataract procedure, the 12 who had the new surgery recovered faster and regrew a new lens within 3 months.
This procedure, published in a paper in the journal Nature, is not only a great advance in preventing childhood blindness, but also proof that the human body can heal using its own stem cells. In-body regeneration can be a better option as it has a lower rate of infection and immune rejection compared to cells that doctors grow in labs and later implant in patients.
Cataracts can affect people of all ages, and an estimated 20 million people are living with cataracts in the U.S. Cataracts that develop as we age are the leading cause of blindness in the world. Childhood cataracts are rare, but are still a major cause of childhood blindness.
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