One of the leading causes of blindness or loss of vision is a cataract. Cataracts are characterized by the clouding of the lenses in our eyes. Although there are cataract treatments out there, they usually bring with them further complications and would often create the need for corrective lenses, especially after the surgery.
However, a group of researchers from China has collaborated with U.S. doctors to develop a technique that would only remove the affected part of the lenses and not the stem cells that are inside of it. In theory, the stem cells would help repair the eyes- making the broken lenses functional again. But, how does it translate into practice?
Kang Zhang, the co-author of the study, said that one of the ultimate goals of stem cell research would be to harness their powers of regeneration in order to utilize it for organ and tissue repair, as well as disease therapy.
Zhang went on to say that their new approach would cause a shift in paradigms pertaining to cataract surgery and may provide patients with a much better and safer treatment alternative in the future.
You see, the main treatment of cataracts today will involve the removal of the affected lens and the implantation of a synthetic replacement.
This procedure mainly involves the removal of lens epithelial stem cells that will prevent any hope of lens regrowth after surgery.
Even though this type of surgery is done so many times, it is still not guaranteed that the patient will not run into further complications such as the calcification or dislocation of the artificial lens. Moreover, the use of this treatment option in kids proved to be quite controversial because it may pose a threat and an increased risk to lazy and deviated eye syndromes.
The alternative approach (the bulk of the study) were tested in primates, rabbits, and a couple of human infants that were predisposed to cataracts.
What the researchers did was they’ve created a minimally invasive technique that would carefully remove the cataractous lens without touching the endogenous stem cells.
When the cells were left in their original places, they are able to initiate a repair process that would help regenerate some functional lenses.
Another positive outcome from the surgery was that the test children actually did not experience any post-surgery complications such as lens clouding and inflammation. The children were screened 8 months after the procedure.
Dusko Illic, a stem cell researcher at King’s College in London, said that the study can be considered as one of the greatest achievements in the field of regenerative medicine.
Ali Djalilian, however, was more cautionary of the study. He said that even if the procedure showed promising results during and after surgery, screening the kids for only 8 months after the procedure would not be enough time to truly see the efficacy and safety of the technique post-surgery.
Still, Djalilian is hopeful and pleasantly surprised that even after 8 months, that the children did not have any serious complications. The research could pave the way for treating people with cataracts by using regenerative medicine.