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Hope for babies born with a cataract

A team of Australian researchers is using human stem cells to develop light-focusing eye lenses that could significantly improve the lives of children born with cataracts.

Dr Michael O'Connor from the School of Medicine at Western Sydney University said the researchers had discovered a way to use stem cell technology to grow thousands of 'micro-lenses' in the lab that are highly similar to lenses in the eye.

Published in the journal Development, O'Connor said the discovery could prove life-changing for millions of people, especially children at risk of losing their sight due to a cataract.

"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.

Globally, there are approximately 314,000 new cases of childhood cataract each year – each requiring multiple surgeries and resulting in sub-optimal vision.

In Australia, it's thought as many as 2.2 babies per 10,000 are born with a cataract.

While there is still many more years of research ahead before regenerated lenses could be used on humans, Cataract Kids Australia has welcomed the research as a breakthrough.

The charity's Dr Megan Prictor says it offers hope of a "transformation in treatment" for those families in urgent need of better outcomes.

"Children who are born with or develop cataract face a very challenging treatment path and uncertain outcomes," she said.

"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."

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