Babies’ sight restored thanks to new surgical technique first tested in animals

Thanks to an innovative new surgery first tested in rabbits and macaques, twelve babies born with cataracts have regained their sight.

The current way of treating cataracts is to surgically remove the clouded-over lenses and to replace them with artificial ones. But Kang Zhang and his colleagues at the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of California in San Diego found that stem cells around the lens can regrow healthy lenses if left undamaged by the surgery.

Cataracts in a child’s eyes due to Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). Image: CDC

Cataracts in a child’s eyes due to Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). Image: CDC

By reducing the size of the incision into the eye, the lens epithelial stem cells are kept in place, and the lenses can regrow and become fully functional. After the technique proved successful in rabbits and macaques, Zhang et al. successfully treated twelve infants. The children will be monitored to make sure that their eyes develop normally, and they don’t grow new cataracts.

The new surgical technique is not only less invasive and therefore less prone to infection; if it becomes standard procedure, it would mean that children born with cataracts will no longer need to get their artificial lenses replaced as they grow.

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