This New Procedure Could Cure Blindness

A new procedure that involves regrowing lens epithelial stem cells (LECs) is the new approach in treating blindness due to congenital cataracts. The study published in the journal Nature in March 9 states that this new technique is safer and less invasive than current cataract treatment.

The researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, Shiley Eye Institute, and China colleagues explain that congenital cataracts causes lens clouding at birth or shortly after birth. The clouded lens block the light from passing through the retina and the treatment for the condition is not applicable to all and can even result to various complications.

Current cataract approaches that employ stem cells involve developing lab stem cells and placing them onto the patient’s eyes, which can cause infection or organ rejection. Ongoing cataract surgeries also involve removing LECs, which does not even work in some cases.

Cataract in human eye. Photo from Wikimedia/Rakesh Ahuja, MD

Cataract in human eye. Photo from Wikimedia/Rakesh Ahuja, MD

However, the new procedure employs stem cells that are already in the patient’s eyes, which prevents the risk for rejection or infection. Additionally, this does not remove the LECs but in fact even encourages remaining LECs to grow and make a new eye lens with clearer vision.

They performed this new method to a group of 12 infants of below two years old and the current surgical approach to another group of 25 infants with the same ages. The first group of 12 infants were able to regenerate their lenses with good vision without suffering any complications. On the other hand, the other group suffered from inflammation, ocular hypertension and their lens even became cloudier.

Kang Zhang, founding director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine and co-director of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering at the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, both at UC San Diego School of Medicine, says, “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.”

The researchers believe that the findings would result in improved cataract treatments. The team is planning to investigate whether age-related cataracts would also benefit from this new procedure.


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