Chinese doctors use stem cells to effectively treat cataracts in children

World Today

Doctors in Guangzhou, China used stem cells to restore eyesight to children with cataracts. It’s the first time scientists have been able to re-grow lenses in children.

Someday they hope to use the technique to regenerate other organs.

CCTV’s He Weiwei reports from Guangzhou.

Chinese doctors use stem cells to effectively treat cataracts in children

Doctors in Guangzhou, China used stem cells to restore eyesight to children with cataracts. It's the first time scientists have been able to re-grow lenses in children. Someday they hope to use the technique to regenerate other organs. CCTV's He Weiwei reports from Guangzhou.

3-year-old Kaikai is waiting in hospital for an eye exam. He was diagnosed with congenital cataract when he was six months old, and that is the No. 1 cause of blindness in China.

Two weeks after his diagnosis Kaikai had surgery, and is recovering gradually.

The surgery, performed by doctor Liu Yizhi, was an unconventional one. Instead of removing the entire clouded lens and implanting an artificial one, Liu kept the main structure of the lens via a much tinier incision and made it regenerate.

“Artificial lens are not suitable for children younger than 2, as it’s too big for them and its size cannot change to adapt to children’s growing eyes,” Professor Liu Yizhi said. “Besides, implantation could bring complications particularly in children.”

Like a gecko’s broken tail that can regrow itself, doctors activated stem cells in the eye to grow a new lens. The surgery takes about an hour, but that’s the result of 18 years of research and trials by doctor Liu and his colleagues.

The breakthrough did not come easily. Liu had test the procedure on rabbits and monkeys since 2000, leading to his first surgery on a child three years ago. He said aside from blood, this was the first time doctors succeed in making stem cells regenerate into a new organ.

“Treating cataracts is just a model, we hope such a technique can be developed and applied to other organs such as the liver, to make greater medical progress,” Liu said.

Doctors are now working on conducting larger trials to treat more children like Kaikai.