It is estimated that over 50% of cases of blindness worldwide can be attributed to cataracts. For the first time, stem cell therapy has been successfully used to correct the condition. In what is being described as “one of the finest achievements in regenerative medicine”, the pioneering procedure was employed to treat children in China who have the condition.
Conventional treatment involves surgery to implant a new man-made lens, and the procedure can often result in complications. The new procedure removes the cataract via a tiny incision, but leaves the lens intact, and activates stem cells in the eye to “self-repair” the lens.
The team from the Sun Yat-sen University and the University of California first trialled the procedure with success on rabbits and monkeys. The latest development has now witnessed success in 12 children, whose regenerated lenses were back to the same size as normal within 8 months. Trials have already started in older patients and early findings are reported to be “very encouraging”.