Stem Cells and Cataracts
Cataract is among the leading causes of vision impairment among more than 50 percent of the population aged 50 and above. Over the years cataract surgery techniques have evolved with advances in technology. Earlier, large incisions were required to extract the cataract and implant a new lens within the lens membrane of the eye. This in turn increased the recovery time, risk of infections, and retinal scars. With advancements in technology, surgeons have been able to improve their technique, thus reducing the size of incisions.
Every advancement in the field of cataract surgery is aimed at reducing the risk of infections, speed up the healing time, and restore vision quality. Now, we are at the edge of a new breakthrough. Using stem cell therapy to treat cataract. In 2016, a group of researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Shiley Eye Institute along with a group of Chinese researchers managed to regenerate the natural lens of the eye using stem cells. The research was conducted on 12 babies who were born with what is known as congenital cataract which means that these babies were born with cataract. The trials were successful and restored complete vision to all 12 babies.
Why does stem cell therapy look promising?
Generally, cataract surgery involves the removal of the clouded lens and the lens membrane. An intraocular lens implant is then used as a replacement for the natural lens. Although IOLs are commonly used, the surgery itself can lead to infections, slightly defective vision, and inflammation. The biggest advantage of this new technique is that the babies who underwent the procedure healed faster and with relatively less complications.
In the treatment of cataracts using stem cell therapy, the affected lens is first removed. The lens membrane is left untouched. Within the lens of the eye are stem cells known as endogenous stem cells that have the power to regenerate. Surgeons stimulate these stem cells. Within a period of three months, the stimulated stem cells had grown into a biconvex lens eliminating the need for external implants. In essence, the body regenerated the natural lens of the eye.
What does the future of cataract surgery look like?
The discovery of this technique is ground breaking to say the least. Although trials have only been performed in children under the age of 2 so far, studies are going on to enhance the technique to be used for elderly patients. Once the technique becomes widespread, the new treatment will restore sight to a number of patients.