New cataracts treatment restores infants' vision using stem cells
Whileyou might generally associate cataracts with more mature patients, asmany as three in every 10,000 children suffer from the condition, which cancause significant vision loss. Now, researchers at the University ofCalifornia, San Diego (UC San Diego) have tested a new approach totackling congenital cataracts, turning to existing stem cells torepair the patient lenses post-surgery, restoring vision.
Currenttreatments for patients with congenital cataracts – a leading causeof blindness in children – is to extract the clouded lens, andimplant an artificial lens to take its place. That procedure can bebe dangerous, incurring significant risk to the patient in the formof potential pathogen transmission and immune rejection.
Thealternative treatment that the researchers are working on approachesthe problem from a different angle, looking not to replace the lens,but instead to make use of the regenerative potential of stem cellsalready present.
Specifically,the work focuses on lens epithelial stem cells (LECs), which generatereplacement lens cells throughout the life of a patient. Currentcataracts surgery removes the vast majority of LECs, but the newlydeveloped treatment would instead see the cataracts removed, but thestem cells left in place, helping to then restore the patient'svision by regenerating the lens.
Themethod was first successfully tested on rabbits and macaque monkeys, beforea clinical trial was conducted, involving 12 infants under two yearsold. Three months after the procedures, the patients had healedquickly, with the researchers observing successful lens regeneration.
Acontrol group of 25 infants received the current standard surgicaltreatment for congenital cataracts. Those patients were found toexperience a higher rate of inflammation following the surgery, aswell as other complications, including lens clouding.
Thisfirst clinical trial is a big step for the new treatment, and theresearchers believe that it could signal a huge change in howcataracts are treated.
"Webelieve that our new approach will result in a paradigm shift incataract surgery and may offer patients a safer and better treatmentoption in the future," said UC San Diego's Kang Zhang.
Theresearchers published their work in the journal Nature.
Source:UC San Diego