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Australian discovery gives hope to children with cataracts

28/03/2018By Matthew Woodley
Researchers from Western Sydney University have developed a world-first process to generate light-focusing lenses from stem cells, which could significantly improve the lives of adults and infants with cataracts.

The discovery, published recently in Development, has allowed the team to make thousands of human micro-lenses in the lab, which are highly similar to lenses in the eye. Lead researcher Dr Michael O’Connor said the breakthrough had the potential to both change lives and save money.


“Our discovery allows us to progress lens regeneration as an improved treatment for childhood cataract, which could both improve vision outcomes and reduce the number of surgeries needed by childhood cataract patients.”
Dr Michael O’Connor, lead researcher

“Impaired vision caused by cataract affects over 100 million people worldwide. Being able to study light-focusing lenses that closely resemble the lens of the eye is a big step towards being able to develop drugs to treat patient-specific cataract and presbyopia,” O’Connor said.

“Finding drugs that delay cataract could also save governments around the world billions of dollars a year that are currently spent on cataract surgery.”

The potential treatment is especially promising for children affected by cataracts, who are currently forced to undergo multiple surgeries that still leave them with suboptimal vision.

“Our discovery allows us to progress lens regeneration as an improved treatment for childhood cataract, which could both improve vision outcomes and reduce the number of surgeries needed by childhood cataract patients,” O’Connor said.

The Director of Cataract Kids Australia, Dr Megan Prictor, said further evaluation of the process is of urgent importance.

“Children who are born with or develop cataract face a very challenging treatment path and uncertain outcomes. We are talking about eye surgery on tiny babies and years of visual rehabilitation involving contact lenses or glasses and patching – which puts families under enormous pressure,” Prictor said.

“Dr O’Connor’s research offers hope of a transformation in treatment that could mean future child cataract patients fare much better. More funding is needed so that this new technology can progress to clinical trial stage.”

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