Cataracts can occur for different reasons. The lens (the part of the eye that focuses light onto the retina) can become clouded because of protein buildup over time in the elderly, or as a result of injury at any age. But in children, cataracts can be the result of genetic problems or infections. All tissues in the body have stem cells that can replace damaged cells, but the number of stem cells can decrease over time–that’s why these researchers were especially interested in pediatric cataracts, since children have more stem cells.
Clearly, the stem cell technique works well for infants, and it might become more commonplace for pediatric cataracts than the current surgical standard. While it’s more invasive than drops to treat cataracts, it’s likely more effective.
The researchers note that stem cells also might be able to help older patients with cataracts, though the lenses tend to be harder and regeneration might take longer. That’s especially important as much of the population is aging, and more people than ever will likely need cataract surgery as a result of concurrent vision problems like nearsightedness, which is on the rise.