While cataracts are often thought of being a problem for the elderly, they are also a major cause of vision loss in infants. In both the elderly and in infants, surgery is the fix and involves removing the entire lens and replacing it with an artificial one or a transplanted lens. Unfortunately, cataract surgery can come with a myriad of complications and typically still require glasses afterwards.
But now, Chinese researchers have discovered the lens epithelial stem/progenitor cells (LECs) contained within the eye can continue to divide even in middle-aged adults. Armed with this knowledge, the researchers made a small incision rather than the usual large one that is required when inserting a replacement lens. This was done first on lab animals and when that turned out to be successful, they then tried the procedure on twelve infants.
Six months after the procedure, the visual acuity of the infants was as good as infants who had the traditional procedure. In addition, this new procedure dramatically reduced the most common complication of abnormal regrowth of residual LECs. Only one in twelve of the infants had that complication compared to 24 of the 25 control infants who had the traditional method.
Researchers hope that this successful human lens regeneration could lead to success in regrowth in adults as well.*