Children With Cataracts Regain Sight

Article Written and Posted by Brulimar - 23rd March 2016

Children with cataracts regain sight after radical stem cell treatment.

A dozen infants who were born with cataracts have regained eyesight after scientists discovered a radical new stem cell therapy, enabling healthy lenses to regenerate in their eyes. The set of infants, all aged under two, were the first to receive the newly discovered treatment and, despite the odds, have managed to overcome the most common cause of blindness. 

Usually children who develop cataracts at birth, or soon after, are treated by having the cloudy lens removed through a large incision made in the centre of the lens capsule, the piece of tissue holding the lens in place. After this, they have to wear glasses or have an artificial lens implanted to help them focus. The surgery does, however, have a number of drawbacks. For example, around 50% of the stem cells that protect the lens are destroyed during the process, plus the artificial lens cannot grow as the child does.  

Turning the traditional operation on its head, surgeons in the trial made small 1.5mm incisions into each eye in order to remove the cloudy lens, whilst carefully leaving the lens capsules intact. It took one month for the incisions to heal, and within three months each child had regrown working, healthy lenses. Compared to the 25 children who had taken the conventional route of surgical treatment, those who had participated in the trial had clearer lenses, less inflammation, and had actually healed faster. 

Doctors are now monitoring the children’s eyes to determine whether they will develop normally with age or whether fresh cataracts could occur, a possibility if the stem cells that regenerated the lenses carry genetic faults that cause the lens-clouding condition. 

The study was led by Kang Zhang at the Shiley Eye Institute in San Diego, who now has plans to investigate further into whether a similar treatment could work for adult cataract sufferers. 

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