Stem Cells Transform Cataract Surgery
Researchers from the University of California-San Diego (UCSD), Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and Sichuan University, both in China, are calling it “a paradigm shift in cataract surgery.”
It’s a pioneering new way of treating cataracts -- tested in animals and in a small trial with human patients -- where, after the cloudy lens is removed, the eye grows a new lens using its own stem cells.
The revolutionary procedure was performed in 12 babies born with cataracts. It resulted in significantly fewer surgical complications than current treatments, and sight was improved in every one of the patients.
While the 12 infants were treated with the new approach, 25 other babies received the standard cataract procedure.
The team chose not to use the more common method -- where stem cells are taken out of the patient, grown in the lab and then put back in the patient. That can introduce disease and raise the risk of immune rejection. These researchers decided instead to coax stem cells in the patients' eyes to regrow the lenses. So-called endogenous stem cells are stem cells that are already in place, ready to regenerate new tissue in the case of injury or other problem.
Those treated with the new approach had fewer complications and healed faster than the group treated the standard way. After 3 months, all the operated eyes had regrown a new lens curved on both sides (biconvex). Additionally, the children who received standard surgery had a higher rate of post-surgery inflammation, developed high pressure in the eye and increased lens clouding.