Stem cells to regenerate the lens in infants
Stem cells have been in the news for the past few years. While they have been used sporadically to treat a number of medical disorders, there have been very few reports about actual regeneration of a body organ with these cells. With so many restrictions on stem cell use in western countries, not many institutions have used these cells to grow human organs.
Well now researchers from the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of San Diego combined with colleagues in China and have developed a new regenerative medical approach to treating congenital cataract in newborn infants. These researchers first tested the system in animals and then applied the technique to 12 newborn infants born with cataracts.
Cataracts are known to cause clouding of the lens in newborn infants and can cause blindness. The clouded lens is known to obstruct the passes of light to the retina resulting in poor visual information processing by the brain. The current treatment of cataracts in newborns is removal of the cataracts followed by corrective eyewear.
In this study the researchers used the ultimate power of the stem cells by regenerating human tissue. After the cataracts were removed in these infants, the integrity of the lens membrane was preserved to help give the lens shape. From prior research, the researcher left the lens epithelial stem cells intact along the edges.
After 3 months, a clear regenerated biconvex lens developed in all 12 infants. Six months after the surgery, all children who were treated in this fashion had a complete lens in both eyes, and the surgical openings made to the lens capsule were healed. Vision testing revealed that the children’s vision was as good as those who underwent conventional surgery.
This pioneering work shows that it is possible to regenerate human organs. The researchers are now looking to expand their research to help treat adults with cataracts. Cataracts affect millions of people all over the world and are a leading cause of blindness. In adults who undergo cataract surgery, the natural lens is removed, and an artificial intraocular lens is implanted. Unfortunately, more than 50% of adults who undergo this surgery are left with poor vision and the need for eyeglasses.
With this innovative research, there is hope that stem cells may be used to treat adults who undergo cataract surgery. However, the difficulty is that removal of cataracts in adults is quite difficult and the lens may not have any more residual stem cells to regenerate the organ.