New medical breakthroughs in the treatment of cataracts have been made by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, along with the Shiley Eye Institute and colleagues in China. With the use of stem cells, a new method of regenerative medicine has been developed for use on congenital cataracts in infants.
Congenital cataracts, one of the leading causes of blindness in children, causes lens clouding either at birth or shortly thereafter. The clouded lens blocks or disrupts light that enters the eye before it can reach the retina, sending a very blurry image to the brain. Due to the age of the patients, there are very few treatment options currently available. Even successful treatments will often require corrective lenses in order to see.
The new method of treatment has been tested on animals, and a small human clinical trial consisting of just 12 patients. Despite the small sample size, the results have been very promising. All 12 treatments were a success, with far fewer surgical complications, and superior visual function when compared to standard methods of treatment.
The results appear to be just a stepping stone on the path to better treatment options for patients suffering from not just cataracts, but many other types of injury or disease. The goal now is to use the regenerative potential of a patient's own stem cells for the purpose of tissue and organ repair, as well as disease therapy.
Previous methods of stem cell treatments have relied on stem cells that were created in a lab, and introduced into a patient's system. This allows for the risk of possible immune rejection, or pathogen transmission, leading to infection.
This new research focuses on endogenous stem cells, which are already in the body, near to the site of the damage. Lens epithelial stem cells (LECs) generate replacement lens sells throughout a person’s life, but at a declining rate as they age. Current methods of treatment remove a large majority of these cells, and the few remaining grow back with little organization. The result is a useless lens with poor vision. The method developed using endogenous stem cells is less invasive, and leaves the LECs and their required structure in tact, allowing the lens to regrow in an organized fashion, with functional vision.
Results from this limited, yet successful test demonstrate a new approach towards regenerating human tissue and organs, through therapy methods that take advantage of our own bodies regenerative abilities.