Effective Cure for Cataract: Researchers Regenerates Functional Human Lenses from Stem Cells


A group of researchers have successfully regenerated functional human lenses from stem cells to cure cataract.

Cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, which leads to a decrease in vision. It is the most common cause of blindness and is conventionally treated with surgery. Visual loss occurs when opacification of the lens takes place, obstructing light from passing and being focused on the retina at the back of the eye.

In the United States, most cataracts are associated with the aging process and are common among older Americans. The National Eye Institute (NEI) projects that cataract cases will increase significantly in the years ahead, due to the aging of the American population.

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According to the NEI, in 2010, about 24.4 million Americans had cataract, and that number is projected to grow to 50.2 million by the year 2050.

In January this year, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, identified a new chemical that rejuvenates crystallins. The chemical effectively melts the folded crystallins, making them soluble within the lens, and restoring their transparent qualities. It was predicted that it could be the cheapest method to cure cataract.

However, this current paper published in the journal Nature by a group of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues from University of Guangzhou, China, is completely different. The researchers theorized that they could be able to use stem cells to grow new lenses for people who suffer from cataracts.

The researchers said they relied upon the regenerative potential of endogenous stem cells. Endogenous stem cells are stem cells already naturally in place. In the case of the human eye, lens epithelial stem cells, or LECs, generate replacement lens cells throughout a person’s life. Production sometimes declines with age.

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The study has been tested in animals and in a small human clinical trial. The researchers said the test produced much fewer surgical complications. It regenerated lenses with superior visual function in all 12 of the pediatric cataract patients who received the new surgery.

“The repair and regeneration of tissues using endogenous stem cells represents an ultimate goal in regenerative medicine. To our knowledge, human lens regeneration has not yet been demonstrated. Currently, the only treatment for cataracts, the leading cause of blindness worldwide, is to extract the cataractous lens and implant an artificial intraocular lens. However, this procedure poses notable risks of complications,” the researchers wrote in the abstract of their paper.

Lead researcher, Kang Zhang said their study will not only affect eye treatment, but will also make impact on others areas in the health sector across the world.

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“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,” Dr Zhang said.

PRI reports that another research team from Japan’s Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, also used human stem cells to grow differentiated eye tissue types in a petri dish. It is said the corneal tissues were able to restore sight in rabbits.

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