Eye care news: Therapy uses stem cells to restore vision in infants

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A new type of regenerative medicine approach could possibly be used in the future to remove vison problems in infants – by permitting stem cells to regrow functional lenses, congenital cataracts in pediatric patients. This approach may open up a new class of therapy specificall for tissue and organ repair. 

These findings come from a study published in the Mach 9 online issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and Shiley Eye Institute, with colleagues in China, took advantage of the regenarative potential of endogenous stem cells.

The conventional stem cell approach right now is creating stem cells in the lab and later introducing them into the patient. This approach comes along certain complicated challenges like pathogen transmission and immune rejection. 

However, for the case of this study, endogenous stem cells, or those stem cells that are already naturally in place in the anatomical site of the problem. For the specific case of the human eye, lens epithelial stem cells (LECs) are the precursors for lens cells important for granting vision to the individual. 

The new therapy that was developed involved a minimally invasive surgery method to remove the lens with cataracts, all the while maintaining the inegrity of the LECs and the lens capsule. The capsule is an elastic membrane in the eye that preserves its globular shape and enabling the eys to focus at near distances.

After the surgery, the LECs in the eye will be stimulated to grow back, forming a new lens. They did this in a human trial of infants under the age of 2 and results that were acquired were really favorable. 

“The success of this work represents a new approach in how new human tissue or organ can be regenerated and human disease can be treated, and may have a broad impact on regenerative therapies by harnessing the regenerative power of our own body,” said lead author Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, as quoted in press release from UCSD. Zhang is the chief of Ophthalmic Genetics, founding director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine and co-director of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering at the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, both at UC San Diego School of Medicine.