In two stories this week, a new surgical approach utilises endogenous stem cells to significantly improves lens regeneration, and implantation of stem cells proves able to repair vision in blind rabbits
1: A new approach to cataract surgery
In the 1st of two encouraging stories, a new surgical technique has been demonstrated in a small clinical trial on 12 children with congenital cataracts. Congenital cataracts have much the same effect as age-related cataracts - lens clouding obscuring the passage of light to the eye. While congenital cataracts can be operated on, patients usually need corrective eyewear afterwards. This procedure could change that.
"An ultimate goal of stem cell research is to turn on the regenerative potential of one's own stem cells for tissue and organ repair and disease therapy"
The novel approach makes use of endogenous stem cells present within the eye, which continue to create new lens cells throughout your life (although effectiveness drops with age). After researchers has outlined the potential of these cells to regenerate the lens, the new procedure was developed specifically to spare these cells in a layer cells the lens capsule. They combined this with stimulation of these stem cells after surgery, which proved extremely successful. In all 12 children who underwent the new surgical technique, all regrew a clear biconvex lens. The team hopes to apply this research to age-related cataracts next, which are the primary cause of blindness worldwide.
"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"
2: Stem cells transplantation can regenerate eye tissue
In more positive news, another study has shown that stem cell transplantation can restore vision in a rabbit model of corneal blindness. Although the research itself was conducted on a rabbit model, the researchers actually used human induced pluripotent stem cells.
The study built on previous research and demonstrated that multiple visual cell lineages can be created in the laboratory from human stem cells. In previous work single types of cells had been formed, but the eye is obviously extremely complex and contains many different cell types. This time the team was able to create a range of different cell types including those forming the cornea, lens and conjunctiva however.
"Our work not only holds potential for developing cells for treatment of other areas of the eye, but could set the stage for future human clinical trials of anterior eye transplantation to restore visual function"
In addition to that exciting news, when researchers transplanted corneal epithelial cells they had cultured in the lab from these human stem cells, these actually proved able to repair vision in rabbits afflicted with corneal blindness, Exciting stuff! The next step is to attempt a similar procedure in humans.